|Core Rules||•||Powers||•||Races||•||Character Sheet|
|Table of Contents|
|Introduction and Summary
• Uncontested Skill Use
• Estimating Skill Ratings
• Imagine an NPC
• Imagine Your Character
|Contested Skill Use
• Vroy Fast-Talks a Guard
• Boxley Fights a Giant Lizard
• Two Types of Modifiers
• Stances and Armor
• Taking Turns
• Optional Rule: Simultaneity
• Optional Rule: Blocking
• Optional Rule: Sente
|Skill and Talent Descriptions
• Skill Descriptions
• Talent Descriptions
• Magic Item Impact
• Crafting Skill Qualities
• Magic Item Examples
• Non-Crafted Magic Items
Nine Powers is a pencil-and-paper role-playing game.
The people playing Nine Powers have different roles. One acts as narrator to describe the setting. The other(s) play the role of one protagonist, making choices and developing personality for that protagonist. The game's rules adjudicate the successfulness and consequences of protagonist intentions.
For historical reasons, this type of cooperative storytelling game is called a role-playing game, the narrator is called the Game Master or GM, and the other people in charge of the protagonists are called the Players.
Two other traditional acronyms calling the main characters Player Characters or PCs, as opposed to the side characters controlled by the GM who are called Non-Player Characters or NPCs.
With Nine Powers the GM and Player(s) take turns telling the story. This is a cooperative storytelling game.
The Player's job during the storytelling is to describe what the PC tries to do. Be daring, dramatic, and confident! Try to keep the pace of the story quick and exciting.
The story becomes suspenseful and exciting when the PC must deal with difficult situations. Numeric skill and talent ratings measure how well the PC overcomes these difficult situations. Just like in real life, difficulties can be easier or harder to overcome based on the circumstances and available equipment. A clever Player will arrange situations to benefit his or her PC.
As the story unfolds, the PC accomplishes objectives and is awarded with increased skill and talent ratings, and with wealth that can be spent to craft or buy special equipment.
The rules are an aid to help the GM and Players decide whether the PC and NPCs are successful in their intentions. The rules surround the story with an unobtrusive layer of structure that provides consistency and a shared understanding of what might reasonably happen. The rules allow the players to cooperatively develop an adventure story that sometimes unfolds as planned and at other times develops in unexpected ways.
Nine Powers uses dice so luck can play a role in the story's development. Allowing luck to steer the story in a surprising way puts the GM and Players on more equal footing as improvisational storytellers who feel suspense and excitement. Strategy and tactics are rewarded, but careful plans and high skill ratings do not always guarantee success.
A fun GM prioritizes helping a thrilling and dramatic story unfold, and will sometimes ignore the rules and dice. On the other hand, the rules and dice are there to help lead the action in an unexpected direction, and a wise GM trusts that the story will naturally flow into places even more colorful and memorable than what was planned or predicted.
In Nine Powers all characters have skills and talents rated between 0 and 8. As characters gain experience they increase in proficiency with these skills and talents. (This is different from a role-playing game in which characters instead advance through "levels".)
In the chart to the right, the skills are written in brown, and each skill has an associated talent written in italicized green.
New characters should have skill ratings that total 30, with every skill rated 1 to 4. New characters have no talents.
There are only a few skills. This mimics the exaggerated prowess of protagonists in classic "heroic opera" pulp stories and films. In this genre, heroes and heroines demonstrate unrealistic expertise at broad categories of real-life skills. For example, Yu Shu-lien fights expertly with any melee weapon, James Bond uses all pistols with equal mastery, Benedict of Amber optimally leads any army on any battlefield, and Buckaroo Bonzai can expertly drive any vehicle.
Nine Powers includes a sample fantasy setting named Spyragia. It is very easy to replace this sample setting with any other setting (even a modern or futuristic one).
Because characters are described with only a few numbers, the GM can readily improvise NPCs. This helps the story go quickly and encourages a focus on creativity and adventure.
These rules sometimes refer to half of a skill's name when doing so aids contextual clarity. For example, these rules will sometimes discuss "the Wrestle skill" instead of "the Wrestle/Disarm skill".
In these rules skill names are always capitalized. This helps differentiate situations from skills. For example, a character bargaining while purchasing equipment will certainly use the Bargain skill, but could also use the Identify and Intuition skills to appraise the value of items, the Etiquette skill to earn favor with the merchant, or the Disguise skill to pretend the purchase is for a local noble.
The point of the previous paragraph deserves repeating. One situation can be approached with many skills!.
One Situation, Many Skill Options
Consider a PC who leaps off a ledge onto a monster. What is the hero trying to accomplish?
If the PC is trying to knock it over, that would use the Wrestle skill.
If the PC is trying to stab it with a weapon as he or she lands, that would use the Melee skill.
If the PC is trying to subdue it with the force of his or her personality, that would use the Wonder skill.
If the PC is trying to land unnoticed on a giant's backpack, that would use the Stealth skill.
If the PC is trying to ride it, that would use the Animals skill.
The rules about skills, talents, dice, and crafting are "core rules" both because they are almost independent of setting and because they are the general rules that get trumped by more specific rules.
(Here is one example of a setting-specific rule that trumps a core rule. Characters do not start with any talents according to the core rules. However, the setting-specific rules about Spyragia's six intelligent races provide an exception to that general rule: members of each race start with one point in a certain talent as part of their racial heritage and expertise.)
Most situations do not warrant slowing down the story telling to roll dice.
Minor challenges only deserve a single comparison of numbers. We call these uncontested skill use. Simply compare a character's skill rating with a numeric threshold that the GM knows or improvises. The character is successful in overcoming a complication or obstacle if its skill rating is equal to or greater than the threshold.
Success with Appraising a Sword
GM: The blacksmith shows Vroy a display case with swords for sale. Which does he want to inspect?
Player: Vroy looks at his second-favorite. What does he think it is worth?
GM: Although it looks nice, and the metal seems high quality, it has poor balance. Perhaps 200 coins.
The GM knows that accurately appraising the sword requires a threshold of 2. Fortunately, Vroy has an Identify skill of 3, which is more than enough for success.
Uncontested skill use does not involve rolling dice.
A character who fails at uncontested skill use need not give up and go home! Often the character can often find another plan that allows success.
The character could find some item or resource that would raise their effective skill rating. Maybe the suspicious guard allows anyone wearing noble's clothing to pass. Maybe the novice minstrel's music is delightfully improved when she plays a magic lute. Maybe the sage cannot recall a needed piece of information from memory, but could find it in a certain rare book, or if he had access to the royal library. Maybe the machinist cannot repair the ancient device with her traveling toolbox, but could if she brought it back to her workshop.
A benefitial circumstance, item, or enchantment can make a skill's effective skill rating one or two points higher than normal.
The character could also attempt using a different skill. For example, if a character could not pick a door's lock using the Machinery skill, perhaps the character next tries to force the door open using the Wrestle skill, or hacking it down with an axe using the Melee skill? An obstacle usually has different numeric thresholds for different approaches.
Uncontested skill use can have degrees of success. A higher skill rating can provide superior results.
Better Results for Higher thresholds
GM: As Siron approaches the rubble the slime on its surface flows together to form a small, humanoid shape that blocks his way.
Player: What does Siron know about this kind of creature?
The GM replies with information based upon Siron's Lore skill rating.
Siron has an Lore skill rating of 5, so he is told the first three pieces of information.
Note that most situations are uncontested and have trivial difficulty. Skill use is automatically successful and not even mentioned by the GM or Player. A PC does not need to formally use the Acrobatcs skill to jump a short distance, the Animals skill to calmly ride a pet horse, or the Perception skill to notice obvious features and items in a room.
Uncontested situations can include a character reacting to sudden circumstances. The character might not even be aware that any skill use happens.
Eluding a Dart Trap
Player: Loot! Vroy opens the treasure chest.
GM: The chest is trapped. A dart flies out from inside.
The GM knows that the trap would be eluded by characters with 4 or more skill in either the Acrobatics or Escape skills. Fortunately, Vroy has an Acrobatics skill of 4 to equal that threshold.
GM: Vroy's quick reflexes save him. The dart flies past his ear and sticks into a wall.
The Wrestle skill can represent the bodily fortitude needed to resist a poison. The Wonder skill can measure the mental resiliance needed to avoid being magically charmed. The Etiquette skill can show the social graces needed to avoid harm from a slandrous rumor. The Perception skill can rate the passive awareness needed to notice a trap before it is triggered.
Some dangers cannot be completely avoided, and successful uncontested skill use only lessens the harm. For example, an avalanche might hurt all characters caught within it, but those with high enough Acrobatics or Escape suffer much less harm.
Skills and talents are rated between 0 and 8. (Only NPCs have skills rated zero.)
The following table provides examples of who might have a certain skill rating, and an example of a threshold of that difficulty when using the Hearthwork skill to do some baking.
The table below includes silly nicknames for the numerical ratings. Neither the GM nor Player should actually use those. They are only provided to help you now while reading the rules for a first impression.
|Rating||Skill or Talent Example||Example threshold|
|1||Wimpy - An inexperienced person mimicking what he or she has only watched||Wimpy - Buttering toast|
|2||Unchallenged - Peons, pawns, flunkies, mooks, and expendable allies wearing red shirts||Unchallenging - Following a recipe after someone else set out the ingredients and cookbook|
|3||Rough - Guards, thugs, laborers, and others who get frequent occasional training and practice||Rough - Making a crumb crust cheesecake|
|4||Practiced - Veterans, diplomats, craftsmen, and others showing fine experience||Practiced - Making a cake with jam between the layers, patterned frosting, and pretty piped icing decorations|
|5||Professional - Guard captains, bandit chiefs, master craftsmen, and other experts and leaders in their fields||Professional - Making the wedding cake for a noble family|
|6||Elite - The local celebrity, someone who is the best in the local region at this skill||Elite - Making the wedding cake for a royal family|
|7||Superior - Most people only meet someone this skilled once or twice||Superior - Making the wedding cake for an imperial family|
|8||Legendary - Most people never meet someone this skilled||Legendary - The cake is indistinguishable from a stationary baby dragon and breathes fire|
Notice the four pairs. Skill ratings 1 and 2 are for skills rarely or never practiced during stressful situations. Skill ratings 3 and 4 denote skills used almost daily, often as a professional to earn a living. Skill ratings 5 and 6 are special and elite, probably unique to any town or region, respectively. Skill ratings 7 and 8 do not appear in most adventures.
Skills in SPECTRE
Consider the novel On Her Majesty's Secret Service.
The common SPECTRE agents employed at Piz Gloria were easily fooled and fought by Bond (skill raing 1 in most skills, perhaps 2 in Melee/Protect).
Blofield is far more clever, perceptive, dangerous, and even athletic than these men (skill rating 4 or 5 in most skills).
Since Blofield does not employ a mercilessly tough or trained bodyguard like Odd Job or Jaws, the story lacks a villain who can match Bond's skill rating of 6 in Melee and Shoot.
Tracy does match Bond's skill rating of 6 in driving, as well as proving his equal in courage both before and during their brief marriage.
Probably no character has any skill rated 7 or 8, although it could be claimed that Bond developed such unparalleled skill in Perception or Intuition during the previous ten novels.
Usually only unintelligent creatures have any skill ratings of zero. Most characters will at least second-hand experience. Even a pacificst NPC has seen other people fight. Even a NPC who does not build machinery has seen machines used and repaired.
As the PC adventures, he or she develops greater skills and talents, and becomes capable of attempting greater challenges.
Adventures will contain many significant objectives: the PC finds an important clue, makes an important ally, reaches an important location, wins an important fight, etc. Whenever the PC successfully completes one of these accomplishments, he or she receives as a reward an advancement token. The GM may also reward unusually great moments of Player creativity or role-playing with extra advancement tokens.
Advancement tokens can be physical tokens or just a tally mark recorded on paper. They are used to increase skill or talent ratings. They may be saved up, spent during an adventure, or spent between adventures.
Increasing a skill or talent to the next higher rating costs as many advancement tokens as the new rating. A talent's rating can never exceed the corresponding skill's rating.
When a group of PCs adventure together, they should share the advanement tokens. A solo PC who adventures with NPC helpers or assistants does not need to share the advanement tokens with the NPCs.
NPCs are like "partial PCs" and often described by a few dominant skills and talents, as well as other information important to the story. For the sake of brevity, everything else is improvised by the GM.
Sometimes the GM needs to know an NPC's skill rating so the NPC can do something, such as a monster attacking the PC.
At other times the GM needs to know an NPC's skill rating because it is the threshold for the PC's success, such as a PC trying to sneak past a monster. (The threshold for the PC's Stealth skill use is probably the monster's Perception skill rating.)
A short description of an NPC can be helpful for the GM.
Caul the NPC Merchant
Caul the merchant is capable haggler, but might still be no match for an experienced PC. He has a booth in the small market square near the port. He sells potions: primarily antidotes for seasickness, hangover, scurvy, and "deckhand's fever". It is a rough part of town, but he finds the people-watching there amusing and relaxing.
Skills: Perception/Escape 3, Melee/Protect 2, Wrestle/Disarm 3, Identify/Lore 4, Bargain/Wonder 4, Disguise/Etiquette 4, Alchemy 3
Talents: Identifying potions has 2 skill
This sample description shows that the adventure's designer is not expecting Caul to be very significant in the story. The merchant is described with just enough detail to help the GM improvise the rest of the character.
When the GM needs to unexpectedly improvise an NPC's skill rating, try the more appropriate of two methods:
The first method assumes we know the NPC's profession and hobbies enough to use the table above to estimate skill ratings. For example random merchant probably has a Bargain skill of 3 or 4 since they use that skill to earn a living. So we start with a rating of 3 if this merchant among the worse half of merchants, or a rating of 4 if this merchant among the better half. Then we add some randomness to make the story interesting: add a four-sided die and subtract 2, which provides an overall variation of −1 to +2. (Perhaps this random merchant is new to the job with a Bargain skill rating of 2? Or perhaps this random merchant is the best haggler in the region with a Bargain skill rating of 5 or 6?)
The second method is for NPCs we know nothing about. Simply roll a four-sided die and add 1 to determine a random rating between 2 and 5 for the needed skill. This is good enough when some random person on the street needs to avoid a runaway carriage.
Notice that no rules discuss making an NPC or group of NPCs "balanced" compared to the PC, whatever that may mean. This is because a skill-based system with few modifiers to effective skill use already makes it clear what challenges a PC will likely be able to overcome. This is because the Nine Powers rules encourage PCs who get stuck to try different approaches (and sometimes even risk failure) instead of going elsewhere with plans to return after they have gained more experience. This is because the Nine Powers economy and setting are designed to reward creativity and make all sorts of things possible.
The Player needs to have a mental image of what his or her PC is like.
Some Players ignore the numbers and consider an archetypical protagonist or a character from another story.
Two Character Concepts from Others Stories
"My hero is like Robin Hood in the Errol Flynn film. He is energetic, physical, and charming. He is the best archer, and a very good swordsman. He is pretty observant. He is not an acrobat, but he can swing from chandeliers or safely jump down from a high place. He was wealthy, but was betrayed and is now an outlaw."
"My heroine is like Kerowyn from the Mercedes Lackey stories. Maybe she even has some kind of magic sword. She works as a mercenary. She is a dangerous swordfighter and a capable team leader. She values honor and fair play. She could teach and inspire people. She rides a horse very well. I want her to be good with all animals, not just horses."
These Players might not pick the PC's initial skill ratings. The GM helps resolve ambiguity and fill in the blanks by asking questions as the story develops. (For example, "You might be able to jump over that pit. How good is your character at jumping?") Remember that a new PC should have skill ratings that total 30. If the Player consistently describes the PC is capable at everything, the PC will soon run out of available points and the GM will set the remaining undecided skill ratings to the minimum of 1.
Other players like to invent a hero by picking the character's initial starting skill ratings.
A Skill Based Character Conept
"My hero is great at fighting. All four Brawn skill ratings are 4. Hm. That leaves me with only 30 − 16 = 14 more points to spend. Let's do a 3 in Perception/Escape and Animals/Wilderness, a 2 in Stealth/Track, and 1 everywhere else. Maybe I was a barbarian who came to the big city to work as a gladiator?"
Other players like to blend both approaches while designing their protagonist.
A Blended Approach
"My hero is a fantasy equivalent of James Bond played by Sean Connery. He always knows the right thing to say. Definitely Disguise/Etiquette 4. He is good at fighting but not a champion. Actually, he is quite skilled with a bow but would rather wrestle than fight with a sword or dagger. So 4 for Shoot/Throw, 3 for Wrestle/Disarm, and 2 for Melee/Protect.
"He knows a lot of things, especially about people and society. And if he does not know something he knows who to ask. So put 4 in Identify/Lore. He is a little sneaky, but prefers to use a disguise and not need to sneak. Maybe 2 for Stealth/Track. He is very perceptive. Definitely Perception/Escape 4. If there is a bad machine he knows how to take it apart. At least 2 in Machinery.
"What is my total so far? 25. So only a 1 in the other five skills."
If you are a Player reading these rules, take a moment to imagine what type of fantasy character you would like to play.
Use a piece of paper called a character sheet to keep track of the PC's skill and talent ratings, perhaps advancement tokens, and your notes about the PC's description, background, inventory, known recipes, friends and relations, special abilities, unusual qualities, etc.
When important struggles, obstacles, complications, contests, and combats have uncertainty about the outcome, the story needs a slower and more suspenseful way to resolve what happens.
Contested skill use allows multiple characters to take turns using their skills to compete for their desired outcome.
Each contest happens in rounds. In each round:
A short example will demonstrate how contested skill use works. Notice how skill ratings and dice can work together to provide structure for how the GM and Players develop a story.
Vroy wants to get into a castle. He knows the guards do not normally let in anyone who does not have an appointment with a member of the royal family.
(Notice that nothing inherent to fast-talking a guard means that uncontested or contested skill use is more appropriate. This example situation must be important to the story to deserve contested skill use.)
This example demonstrates that a character who rolls equal to or less than their currently chosen skill's rating succeeds with the die roll and causes his or her opponent to suffer a loss. Each loss reduces the effective skill rating of an opponent's skill rating by 1 until the contest ends.
The character causing the loss picks which skill rating is effectively reduced, but must pick from the skills his or her opponent declared for that round or declared for an earlier round during that contest. A character loses the contest when one of his or her effective skill ratings is reduced to zero!
Fast-Talking a Castle Guard (Part One)
GM: The guard watches Vroy approach. He says "Good day" without a smile.
Player: Vroy replies, "I wish it were. The prince summoned me to discuss the city's wererat problem. However, I lost his letter."
The first round beings. Vroy wants to enter the castle. The guard wants to require proof of an appointment. Both will use the Bargain/Wonder skill.
Vroy has a Bargain/Wonder skill rating of 3. The player tries to roll 3 or less to be succeesful. But the die rolls a 5.
GM: The guard frowns. "No entrance without the letter. Pay an official courier to ask for another. Or perhaps His Highness will hire a more responsible adventurer." The guard stands straighter, hoping the solidity of his presence causes Vroy to leave.
The guard has a Bargain/Wonder skill rating of 2. The GM rolls a 2. Vroy suffers a loss: his effective skill rating in Bargain/Wonder is reduced by one until the contest ends.
Player: Vroy is flustered, but continues talking...
Each turn, each character's first die roll uses an eight-sided die. In the example above, the Player rolled a 5 on an eight-sided die.
Normally additional dice are rolled as a character is successful. After that first roll succeeds, the character might be even more successful: a second die roll may be attempted with a ten-sided die. If that second roll succeeds, the character might be still more successful: a third die roll may be attempted with a twelve-sided die. If that third roll succeeds, the character might be yet more successful: a fourth die roll may be attempted with a twenty-sided die.
Because skills are rated between 1 and 8 (before modifiers) it is unlikely that any character will have four successful die rolls in a turn. But it could happen. Such events can redirect the flow of a story in unexpected ways!
Fast-Talking a Castle Guard (Part Two)
The GM now rolls a ten-sided die because the guard was successful with the eight-sided die. But the ten-sided die rolls a 9, so the guard's turn ends.
The second round begins. Both characters continue using the Bargain/Wonder skill.
Player: Vroy tries again. "Pay a courier? You want me to pay to risk my neck fighting wererats? Hmph. I think I will offer my blade to another city that takes its monster infestations more seriously! Perhaps tomorrow His Highness will ask his royal guards to explore the sewers."
Vroy now has a Bargain/Wonder skill rating of 3 − 1 = 2. The player rolls a 1 on the eight-side die. Success! The guard suffers a loss. The player rolls a 2 on the ten-side die. Another success! The guard suffers a second loss. Because the guard's effective Bargain/Wonder skill rating is reduced to zero, Vroy wins the contest.
GM: The guard looks abashed. "Sorry, sir. You speak truly. Go on in, sir. Better you than me in the sewers."
As always, circumstances, items, and enchantments might change the effective skill ratings used by characters.
Perhaps Vroy had a magic hat of mesmerizing glibness? Perhaps the guard's best friend was recently slain by a wererat? Either might have influenced the contest favorably for Vroy and raised his effective skill rating.
Perhaps Vroy is inebriated? Perhaps the gate guards were recently reprimanded for lack of strictness? Either might have influenced the contest unfavorably for Vroy and lowered his effective skill rating.
When a character is successful enough to roll multiple dice successfully in one turn, feel free to interpret this as one action that has significant effect or several small actions that combine effectively. For example a single melee attack that causes three losses could represent a single tremendous blow, or an elegant combination of parries and ripostes.
Boxley has been hired to deal with a giant lizard that has been eating a village's sheep. After talking to a few villagers and tracking the monster into the forest, she has finally found the small cave that is its lair. She draws her sword and enters the cave, quietly stepping over the rocks and bones on the ground. The lizard was resting in the back of the shallow cave, but lifts its head as she enters. Boxley yells and charges forward.
Tangentially, both of these examples of contested skill use involve the PC initiating the contest and thus taking the first turn. Many encounters are like this: one character is clearly acting with initiative and goes first during the first turn. In general, the order of dice rolling follows these priorities:
In this example combat, Boxley wears soft leather armor and the giant lizard has thick hide. Both characters thus receive 1 point in toughness that is separate from their skills and talents. Each point of toughness negates one of the opponent's successes during the contest. (That success does not cause a loss.)
(Tangentially, toughness is usually reset after the contest ends, just like how the penalies to skill ratings from losses are reset. Characters have recovered their stamina, patched up their wounds, repaired their armor, etc.)
So Boxley and the giant lizard will both ignore the first loss they suffer. The GM or Player may, of course, still describe those otherwise successful attacks as minor wounds or setbacks.
Boxley and the Giant Lizard
GM: As Boxley steps into the shallow cave the giant lizard lifts its head.
The first round beings. Both combatants decide to use the Melee skill.
Player: Boxley yells as she rushes at the giant lizard, swinging her sword. If only she still had her bow!
The Player rolls the eight-sided and ten-sided dice successfully, but not a twelve-sided die.
GM: The lizard hisses as Boxley approaches. It tries to move past her, but her sword strikes it hard. Its thick hide absorbs most of the impact. Then it shrieks as Boxley strikes it a second time, crippling one of its front legs.
The GM rolls an eight-sided die successfully, but not a ten-sided die.
GM: The lizard bites at Boxley's leg, but her armor protects her.
Player: If it is holding onto her leg, Boxley kicks at its head.
GM: No, it is mostly trying to get past Boxley to leave the small cave. It makes a half-hearted attempt at a second bite, but scurries closer to the cave entrance.
The second round beings. Boxley continues to use the Melee skill. The giant lizard will switch to using the Wrestle skill.
Player: Boxley growls, "No running away!" as she swings again. "I am in no mood to track you again. Feel my steel!" She aims for one of its hind legs.
The Player rolls an eight-sided die successfully, but not a ten-sided die.
GM: She manages to lunge forward a hit a hind leg. But the creature can still walk.
The GM rolls the eight-sided and ten-sided dice successfully, but not a twelve-sided die.
GM: Once outside where it has more room, the giant lizard turns to face Boxley and with surprising speed lunges at her arm. It clamps down on her elbow and twists, trying to pull her to the ground. Two losses.
Player: Yikes! Boxley falls to the ground. That elbow made an unpleasant noise, too. She is breathing heavily. She gets up onto one knee, preparing to stab with her blade.
This combat is not over. Will Boxley slay the lizard?
Experienced GMs and Players have practice describing losses in interesting ways. Notice how both contributed to describe the giant lizard's successful Wrestle attack.
Losses during a combat can represent injuries, being breifly dazed or shaken or stunned, getting knocked down or pushed back, having equipment to crack or break, being disarmed or grabbed, or being forced into an unfavorable positioning.
During a social situation losses can represent speaking clumsily, getting distracted or disoriented, being caught using an exaggeration or lie or staw-man argument, getting caught going off on a tangent, or being ridiculed.
Notice how the manner in which losses penalize skill use will prompt characters whose current effort is unsuccessful to try a different approach.
A character that loses a contested skill use event by having an effective skill rating reduced to zero is defeated.
The victor usually chooses what defeat looks like in the story.
For example, a wrestler could say he securely pinned his foe, or that his foe was disarmed and became exhausted, or his foe was knocked unconscious by a blow to the head, or was died from asphyxiation.
A swordswoman could say she backed her foe against a wall with the sword point touching her foe's neck, or struck down her foe until the opponent was too beat up to rise, or slew her foe with a thrust through the heart.
However, the GM always has the option of deciding most of what defeat looks like. The GM has more detailed plans for how the story will develop, and is therefore allowed to use defeats to guide the plot in a desired direction.
Player: Siron fires an arrow at the bandit.
GM: The bandit screams as the arrow hits. Unfortunately he is not alone, and his friend is both sneaky and wielding an enchanted mace. Does Siron do or say anything as he slumps to the ground, losing consciousness?
The PC was defeated by a stealthy melee attack. Given that this happened, the GM has a strong preference for how the story should continune.
Player: Only "Oof!"
GM: Siron wakes up in a dark room. His feet are tied, and he has a huge lump on his head.
Perhaps Siron's circumstances would have changed if he had insulted, plead with, or sleep-gassed the nearby bandits as he lost consciousness.
A defeat should not abort or trivialize the story's development. It would be an awful story if the defeat of the first villanous minion let the PC learn all about the main villain's identity, plans, weaknesses, and secret lair. Similarly, it would be an awful story if the Player's first foolhardy decision caused the PC to die.
Memorable defeats make memorable stories.
Notice that contests may theoretically end in a draw. Characters that do not clearly have initiative from narrative reasons and choose to use the same skill will cause losses simultaenously, and can both reduce the other's skill ratings to zero.
After a character defeats a foe they get to restart their turn. They must use the same skill they chose for that round, but may declare a new target and start over with an eight-sided die.
Historically, this rule goes way back to Dave Arneson's similar rule also named "Chop Til You Drop".
Next we add some detail to how modifiers can change effective skill ratings.
Characters attempting both uncontested and contested skill may try to arrange circumstances and use resources to give themselves advantages.
Each modifier only adjusts an effective skill rating by +1 or −1. When two modifiers apply simultaneously they can adjust an effective skill rating by +2 or −2. That is the most an effective skill rating can be modified, even if more than two modifiers apply in a situation.
The first type of modifier relates to the quality of equipment.
A exceptional quality item can provide a bonus of 1 to appropriate skill use. This item could be a remarkable weapon or tool, a high-quality disguise, etc.
Similarly, a very low quality item can cause a penalty of 1 to appropriate skill use.
The upcoming economic rules describe how to price these notably high and low quality items.
The second type of modifier relates to circumstances.
Tasks can be easier due to features of the location, environment, or creatures. It is easier to win a foot race along familiar streets, fight from higher ground, identify a very familiar signature amidst forgeries, or scare a very flamable monster by brandishing a torch.
Circumstantial modifiers can also be based on what other people are doing, such as allies flanking an opponent, soldiers aided by their commander's superior tactics and inspiring shouts, or a highwayman abushing an unprepared target.
Unfavorable circumstances often provide a penalty to effective skill rating. It is harder to shoot a quickly moving target, spot someone hiding behind concealment, race on an unbroken horse compared to a trained horse, aim an attack with the sun in your eyes, or fast-talk a well-informed suspicious guard.
Remember, the overall effect of circumstances can provide a bonus or penalty of ±1 to appropriate skill use. The GM and Player should agree how overlapping circumstances combine. Perhaps the archer benefits from shooting from higher ground and an ally distracting the enemy, but suffers from looking into the sun and the enemy partly hiding behind an overturned table: what is the overall circumstantial modifier?.
We use the term impairment to refer to the long-term circumstancial penalties that are not from inferior quality equipment.
(Impairments are an example of a −1 or −2 penalty, not a new type of modifiier.)
Perhaps an archer is not merely dealing with (situational) gusts of wind, but also has (ongoing) a broken arm. A gladiatorial slave is not merely dealing with (situational) having the sun in his eyes, but also (ongoing) is weakened from being chronically underfed by his owners. A woodsman is not only having trouble sneaking past the giant spiders because (situational) their webs are hard to see at night in the underbrush, but also because (ongoing) he is poisoned from having already been bitten by a giant spider.
Impairments might include being exhausted, sick, dehydrated, crippled, numbed, weakened, nauseous, overheated, freezing, phobic, depressed, or enraged.
A magical curse could make a normally temporariy condition an ongoing impairment, such as being continually befuddled, slowed, dazed, dizzy, sneezing, or coughing.
Aquiring an impairment can be the appropriate consequence of defeat. Perhap's Siron's head injury penalizes his Disguise/Etiquette skill until it heals.
Vroy and his Oratory
Vroy tries to rally a crowd of villagers to join him in assaulting a cave of monsters. He starts by using his Bargain/Wonder skill to amaze the villagers with promises of treasure and the thrill of victory. But a naysayer also shouts to the crowd, reminding them that several villagers have already died in that cave, and that the foes are not intelligent bandits but unnatural monstrosities with many mouths and tentacles but probably no treasure.
That contest ends with Vroy defeated and suffering an impairment. His Player describes how the crowd pelted Vroy with rotten vegetables, which will penalize his Bargain/Wonder and Disguise/Etiquette skills until he can devote a full hour to washing his clothes. Vroy gives up on rallying the crowd and departs for the cave alone.
As a rule of thumb, the worst impairments the PC suffers (whether physical or psychological) can be healed with herbal medicine and no more than a week's time. Many impairments, such as Vroy's slimy clothes, are much easier to resolve.
In the classic "heroic opera" pulp stories and films combat is more significant and tactical than other types of contested skill use.
Rules about stances and armor add just the right amount of complexity for our narrative emphasis.
Stances describe how a character's hands are occupied. Each of the five stances offers a benefit.
• If the character uses two hands on one hilt that character can ignore the stances of all other combatants. This grip provides the most control, and can be used by fighters desiring "plain" combat rules.
• If the character has two hands free her or she may reroll each die when using the Wrestle/Disarm skill and use the more favorable result. Similarly, a character holding two small one-handed weapons may reroll each die when using the Melee/Protect skill and use the more favorable result. In effect, this character is chosing to be aggressive and get two chances to succeed.
• If the character wields a one-handed weapon with a shield then incoming attacks might be deflected by the shield. Opponents must roll each of their dice twice and use the less favorable result. When only one of the two dice succeeds, that signifies the shield diverting the attack. (This stance and the previous stance cancel each other out.)
• If the character uses two hands on a weapon with a long shaft that character causes 2 losses with each successful die. The extra leverage of the long weapon causes it to hit hard! Note that each point of an opponet's toughness still negates an entire hit.
• If the character wields a one-handed weapon with a hand free then he or she can penetrate a foe's armor using the half-sword grip, or by grabbing the opponent while shoving a dagger in a precise spot. That attacker ignores a defender's toughness from armor. (This stance might allow other sources of toughness to be ignored. Can a blade be thrust between the dragon's scales?)
Characters should declare what stance they are using at the start of each round, when they state their intention and choice of skill.
The stances should not be firmly tied to what is in a character's hands. For example, a fencer using a foil to ward way unarmed opponents is creating a circumstance that better fits the third stance than the fifth.
The benefits of stances might happen for other reasons. A weapon coated with alchemical poison or glowing with magical fire might cause 2 losses with each hit even if its wielder is also holding a shield and using the defensive third stance.
As always, the GM and Player can agree to expand the rules to adjust the pace of combat and the degree to which game mechanics (as well as narrative storytelling) describe the action. Perhaps someone using two hands on a weapon with a long shaft also gets a free attack when someone using a shorter weapon but no shield attempts to close distance? Perhaps combatants get a free attack when a foe attempts to disengage and move away, but the stance one-handed weapon with a shield negates this free attack?
Stances may also be used in non-combat contests. For example, an adventurer who has already saved a village from monsters could now be a local hero whom the villagers treat favorably. While in that village the character gets to roll two dice in every social contest, using the more favorable result, because the villages are hesitant to think poorly of the village savior and are willing to give him good prices when bargaining.
The second way combat is made more significant and tactical than other types of contested skill use by making the choice of armor a tradeoff between toughness and mobility.
Below is a table with examples of armor for a fantasy setting. Use this table as a guideline, knowing characters might wear armor piecemeal, or use less traditional types of armor.
(The table's final column uses the term "impact". This will be described in the economic rules.)
|Armor Type||Toughness vs. Ranged||Toughness vs. Melee||Impact|
Armor can impede movement. The amount of toughness armor grants against ranged attacks is also a penalty to that character's Shoot/Throw, Acrobatics/Climb, and Wrestle/Disarm skill ratings.
Here are a few comments about taking turns.
When the PC is interacting with NPCs the Player should describes the PC's intentions, not actions.
Usually the PC's plans or desires are immediately successful: they could just as well have been phrased as actions. But assuming success is actually crowding out the GM's turn. Describing intentions provides the GM with opportunities to inject details and complications. Furthermore, intentions are easy to word in exciting and realistic phrasing with details that can make the story more interesting.
For example, during an archery contest the Player expects the PC will use the Shoot skill. But the GM has information that the PC lacks. That action gets interrupted.
A Crooked Archery Contest (Version 1)
GM: It is Boxley's turn in the archery contest.
Player: Boxley politely smiles at her opponent as she calmly looses an arrow at the target.
GM: As Boxley sets the arrow to the string she notices her opponent is attempting to switch arrows unnoticed.
Player: Boxley lowers her bow and frowns at the cheater.
The story would have more flow if the Player had described an intention, not a completed action.
A Crooked Archery Contest (Version 2)
GM: It is Boxley's turn in the archery contest.
Player: Boxley politely smiles at her opponent as she calmly aims her arrow at the target. This will be an easy shot.
GM: As Boxley sets the arrow to the string she notices her opponent is attempting to switch arrows unnoticed.
Player: Boxley lowers her bow and frowns at the cheater.
Similarly, the Player knows things about the PC that the GM does not. Since both the GM and Player have kinds of unique knowledge, they should both ask each other questions and be aware of speaking with intentions.
A Crooked Archery Contest (Continued)
Player: Boxley looks at the new arrow, to check if it seems unusual or enchanted.
GM: Does she have any experience with the different types of arrowheads used by the northern barbarians?
Player: She does not. So Boxley tries to look happily excited. "That looks like a neat arrow. May I?" She holds out her hand to accept it.
GM: Her opponent mumbles, "Sorry, only fiddling to pass the time" and begins to put that arrow back in his quiver.
Players often ask the GM questions about the PC's observations, hunches, and knowledge of the game world. The GM might not answer these questions, but it cannot hurt to ask.
"What does my character see?"
"Does my character remember if these creatures can climb trees?"
"What does my character think is a fair price for selling the gem?"
"Does my character think he could defeat both of them without getting wounded?"
"Does this merchant seem trustworthy?"
"What does my character think are his best options?"
Similarly, the GM often asks the Player questions about the PC's background, clothing and equipment, bearing and demeanor, and other details that might influence how NPCs react to the PC.
Both the GM and Players should be intentional with verbosity. They can include all sorts of details that do not affect a situation's outcome. This slows down the pace of the story, which can be done well to create a dramatic effect or done badly (which can be annoying).
Archery without Details
Player: Boxley cautiously fires an arrow at the highwaymen from her hiding place behind the wagon.
Succinct and sufficient. There is nothing especially right or wrong about using few words.
Archery with Steps
Player: Boxley cautiously fires an arrow at the highwaymen. She readies an arrow, leans from her hiding place behind the wagon, selects a target, aims carefully, shoots the arrow, and ducks back behind cover.
Verbose but not boring. When the situation is suspenseful the Player often slowly states a series of steps to provide the GM opportunity to interrupt if the bad guys do something unexpected.
Archery with Extra Actions
Player: Boxley quickly looks at the highwaymen from her hiding place behind the wagon, hollering, "Head down, Friar!" She touches her lucky rabbit foot and prays for luck before drawing her arrow. "Your mother stinks of gooseberry!" she yells as she fires an arrow at the nearest enemy.
Saying so many actions in one rush implies only the shooting can actually affect the situation. If rubbing the rabbit foot caused a magic effect, or if Boxley's insult could demoralize the enemy, the Player should slow down so each one item was resolved before the next is mentioned.
The Player can carry the story forward without the GM when the PC is alone, in a familiar place, or doing trivial tasks. For example, the Player might talk at length about how the PC is at home alone, selecting equipment to take into a dungeon, working at an alchemy table to prepare some useful potions, and packing everything carefully.
The Player can also keep going without the GM when the PC doing tasks whose outcome is certain.
Icky Yet Trivial
GM: Vroy falls down the pit, and lands amidst a bunch of hungry giant snails.
Player: Has Vroy heard of such creatures? How dangerous are they?
GM: They are as long as his forearm, but move very slowly. He can easily avoid their bites.
Player: Ick. Vroy kills them all.
A good GM will use verbosity with purpose. The GM will slow down the pace by providing more detail when the PC has the luxury of slowly looking around and thinking. The GM will foster a sense of urgency when the action is rushed by sharing less detail and concluding with phrases such as "What is your character doing?" or "How does your character react?"
Remember to only used contested skill use when there is a meaningful situation that involves genuine competition, contest or struggle whose outcome could be victory or defeat.
A character who wants to kill an unconscious or bound prisoner with a weapon can almost always do so quickly and easily. A customer at the shop can buy a backpack without haggling. A witty and honey-tongued princess can insult uncharismatic visiting nobles all afternoon without effort.
Even combat does not always warrant contested skill use.
Player: Siron smiles at the thug. "I mean no harm."
GM: The thug draws his sword and rushes towards Siron. How does Siron react?
Player: Siron can't question a corpse. He wants to subdue this thug but not kill him. So he moves into a compact stance, ready to disarm. He hopes to gague his opponent's strength and skill, then disarm.
GM: The thug's swings are forceful but not skilled. Siron parries two blows, and on the third has an opportunity to disarm.
Player: Siron knocks away the thug's sword. "Who sent you? Why did they not tell you that I am the finest swordsman in the city?" He shrugs, a bit slowly, to show he is so unafraid of the thug that he can make that gesture during a swordfight.
GM: The thug looks down at his blade, then up at Siron's eyes. He tries to grab at Siron's arm. The thug is definitely less skilled but stronger. What does Siron do?
Notice how the GM and Player both used details to make the story more fun. They both gave each other enough to build off of. The scene could be interesting and exciting without contested skill use.
Nine Powers is designed to excel as introduction to role-playing games, and as a kid-friendly storytelling game. So it puts the burden of carrying the story forward on the GM, who hopefully has experience and maturity. The GM and Player could instead more equally share of the burden of carrying the story forward, with the Player describing PC actions (not only intentions) and even NPC actions. This requires both to have flexibility, initiative, and comfort in trusting the story to flow synergistically.
A Player Carrying the Story Forward
Player: Siron smiles at the thug. "I mean no harm."
GM: The thug draws his sword and rushes towards Siron. How does Siron react?
Player: Is Siron a vastly better swordsman?
GM: Definitely. That is obvious just from how the thug moves and holds his sword.
Player: Siron's smile broadens. "Oh, please!" he groans. He parries one or two of the thug's swings, then knocks away the thug's sword. "Who sent you? Why did they not tell you that I am the finest swordsman in the city?" He shrugs slowly, showing a lot of teeth.
GM: Okay. The thug is about to grapple, foolishly trusting in his greater strength. Fanaticism shines in his eyes. What does Siron do?
Player: Siron sighs. He stabs the thug in one knee. "I am losing patience." He stabs the thug in the other knee. "I am out of patience." As the thug falls to the ground, Siron holds his sword lightly against the thug's throat. "Who sent you?"
The GM never resolved skill use. The Player knew enough information to make those decisions, and "stole" that role from the GM. This works fine if both the GM and Player want that type of story telling.
As a final note about story pacing, remember that the time it takes a character to use an item could span different amounts of GM and Player speech. Slow tasks that happen without any problem when the story is moving slowly could span several turns if the story switches to hectic contested skill use. Without urgency a character might have no worries while picking a tricky lock, repairing worn-out machinery, setting up a trap, climbing a high wall, bandaging a hurt ally, or crossing a large pile of rubble. But those actions might span several rounds of contested skill use.
If the GM and Player want a contest to go faster they can agree to delay applying losses until the end of each round, after all participating characters have rolled their dice.
This obviously reduces the benefit of going earlier in the round. The losses a character causes to an opponent will not reduce that opponent's chance of success until subsequent rounds. But this optional rule increases the pace of the contest and perhaps makes it more exciting.
Consider how appropriate this option seems in each situation. If a thief with a dagger is charging an archer, it makes sense to follow the normal rules: if the characters have equal skill, the archer's attack will happen first. On the other hand, two thieves attacking each other with daggers might well hit each other at the same time even if one is slightly more skilled, so this optional rule could make sense.
The rules so far allow the story to develop smoothly with minimal interruption from die rolling. However, something is admittedly missing.
During contested skill use a character with more skill will succeed (on average) more often and to a greater degree, and be more resistant to his or her opponents' actions. Yet characters succeed or fail to cause losses using only their own skill ratings (and luck). It is not harder to cause losses when your opponent is more skilled.
If the GM and Players want to add another rule, a small change can give more-skilled characters extra defense.
Let each round of the contest now happen in three steps:
After characters declare their intentions, a new step happens. Each character rolls a twenty-sided die for each opponent who is intending to cause them losses. Any of these veto dice that roll less than or equal to that character's skill rating nullify the corresponding opponent's turn during that round. That opponent does not participate in the third step of the round, when characters roll dice to try to cause losses.
Veto dice only slow down the story telling slightly, and allow for a more skilled character to be safer when surrounded by numerous less-skilled opponents by negating more incoming threats. Make sure this is explained in the story telling!
The rules so far can allow the story to develop smoothly with minimal interruption from die rolling, but something else is admittedly missing.
Contested situations in real life often begin slowly as the people involved literally or metaphorically circle, prod, and test each other. Contestants only commit to their most bold and dramatic actions after sensing that these are safe to do and will not put them physically or mentally off-balance.
To include this dynamic in a very simple way, we define sente as when your decisions compel someone else to react to you, denying them the freedom to act how they would instead prefer. Then a simple three-part rule now adds this dynamic.
There will obviously be exceptions. If the contest began as an ambush, it probably makes sense for the aggressors to start with sente. If multiple characters tie for causing the most losses, all those that are tied can have sente.
Ignoring dice that roll 1 the first round of the contest gives the action a chance to build up.
Ignoring dice that roll 1 for contestants who are losing means characters with more skill (or luck) are more likely to maintain their advantage.
The word sente comes from the game of Go. The similar term in chess is tempo.
Notice how the first of the optional rules removes benefit from being more skilled, while the second and third optional rules favor characters with more skill than their opponents. The latter two optional rules will be more appealing for a Player with a PC that is usually more skilled than NPCs and who wants to feel less danger. (This can help make Nine Powers more kid-friendly.) However, when the PC finds himself or herself struggling as the underdog, then first optional rule would help the PC feel at less of a disadvantage. The GM and Player should be careful and intentional about using the optional rules, to not accidently make contested skill use seem too easy or hard.
The rules so far have described how skills and talents work without really describing what they are. Let's get into the details.
Skills measure how capable a character is at the most common actions in a fantasy story. Talents are advanced ways to use skills differently, achieving a distinct kind of benefit that can never be acquired through normal skill use.
Because talents provide characters with such special flavor and abilities, the benefits of talents should never made availble from other means such as magic items.
Certain skills mention distances, such as when Acrobatics is used for jumping. These distances can be meters or yards, or squares on a battlemap such as this classic vinyl version manufactured by Chessex.
Tangentially, these rules never mention how far a character can move during one turn of contested skill use. The GM and Players should aim for relaxed reasonableness with these decisions. If a battlemap is used, they should decide how many squares of movement each characters is allowed each turn, which might be based partially on that character's Acrobatics/Climb skill rating.
This skill is used for distance attacks. Shoot is used for bows, crossbows, and handheld devices created with Machinery. (Seige weapons are operated with Machinery instead of Shoot.) Throw is used for throwing either sharp or blunt objects.
As a rule of thumb, the distance a character can shoot a projectile without penalty is ten times his or her skill rating. The distance for throwing without penalty is four times the skill rating. Beyond this distance the attacker suffers a penalty.
Normally a character uses Shoot while stationary. Moving while shooting causes a penalty.
This skill is used to safely and successfully jump, fall, roll, climb, etc. Acrobatics is used when moving along or onto horizontal surfaces. Climb is used when moving along or onto vertical surfaces.
Characters with greater skill rating can jump farther, fall safely from higher distances, and climb trickier surfaces. As a rule of thumb, at higher values a character can:
This skill is also used (actively and passively) to avoid threats or obstacles, such as diving away from an explosion, avoiding harm in a rockslide, or leaping from an out-of-control mount.
Compare Acrobatics skill ratings to find the victor when foot racing through a forest heavy with underbrush and branches, because coordination and strength are both required.
During contested skill use, the Acrobatics/Climb skill can be used to devote a turn to defensive movement. Successful die rolls do not cause losses, but instead grant the acrobat temporary points of toughness that last unil the acrobat's next turn. It is harder to hurt someone ducking and leaping around the room!
Melee involves up-close combat focused on causing wounds. The skill can be used with punches, kicks, claws, bites, or stings as well as with sharp or blunt weapons.
Protect is used to intercept danger. When a character uses Protect, successful die rolls do not cause losses, but instead grant the character or an ally within melee reach temporary points of toughness that last until the protector's next turn.
Wrestle and Disarm are for attacks not focused on causing wounds, but instead attempting to restrain, reposition, or inconvenience an opponent. This usually requires having at least one hand free, but can also used with weapons that ensnare, such as a net, whip, mancatcher, or bolo.
When using the Wrestle/Disarm skill during combat, successful die rolls dice do not cause losses. Instead, for each success the wrestler may choose one of five wrestling effects that last until the start of the defender's next turn:
These effects represent how the wrestler can grab the opponent, hinder or control their movement, establish a dominant position, tire them out, and even use the opponent as a shield.
Remember how the usual circumstantial, equipment, and impairment modifier may only change a skill rating by at most +2 or −2, no matter how many apply? These wrestling effects can provide an additional +1 or −1. For example, a character that has the high ground, a high-quality weapon, and an ally grabbing an opponent will have a +3 bonus. A character that is demoralized, nauseous, and being restrained by an opponent will have a −3 penalty.
The Wrestle skill is also important as an estimate of the general physical strength of a character: a higher Wrestle skill rating denotes deeper reserves of physical endurance and greater ability to resist fatigue, poison, etc.
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.
Compare Wrestle skill ratings to find the victor when foot racing on a clean track or street. Strength is much more important than coordination for those foot races.
Perception measures alertness, awareness, and attention to detail. It is always used passively, to determine if a character who is not actively searching still notices something. Perception applies to all types of noticing, whether a tiny item carefully hidden in a room or a mystical plant growing somewhere in a large forest.
A character that is actively looking for an item is normally able to find it. A situation that would prevent success, such as a key hidden within the false bottom of a drawer, is better handled through role-playing than by consulting a numeric skill rating.
When a character uses Perception during contested skill use, the losses are postponed. Later duing the contest that character or its ally may apply those to add "oomph" to all future successful die rolls, as long as the target is using the same skill that was observed. This represents noticing something useful and acting on or sharing that advice (this Ogre has poor peripheral vision, this giant snake's scales are thinnest under its jaw, this diplomat just made a claim that can be easily disproved, etc.).
Perception thus allows teamwork to cause repeated larger effects until the opponent changes its chosen skill.
Escape refers to noticing how to gain freedom from a diffiuclt situation. It could be escaping a physical confinement such as a trap or net. It could be escaping pursuit while fleeing down a busy street by noticing a timely opportunity to duck under a cart or through a doorway.
Some sources of confinement are not appropriate to the Escape skill. For example, a character stuck in locked manacles or a well-maintained wrestling hold cannot gain freedom simply by noticing something opportune.
The target rating for an uncontested Escape attempt might be the skill rating used to create the source of confinement: Wilderness for a snare, Machinery for a mechanical trap, Wrestle for a thrown net or a sloppy wrestling hold, Etiquette for a conversational trap, etc.
A character may use the Escape skill to flee contested skill use, but only if he or she suffered no losses that round and the previous round.
Stealth is used to hide, move quietly, walk tracelessly, use a disguise, or be physically sneaky in other ways. Stealth is also used for sleight of hand and pickpocketing.
This skill rating determines the threshold that other characters would need to notice the sneaker passively with their Perception skill.
(Normally the sneaking character will not know the Perception skill ratings of those who are searching. The sneaking character must use clues, intuition, and courage to estimate how quickly he or she can safely move.)
It is harder to be stealthy while moving. As a rule of thumb, moving at crawl causes a 2 point penalty, and creeping with barely any movement causes a 1 point penalty.
Track attempts to follow someone's trail, which often involves the same knowledge and tricks as Stealth. The target rating for an uncontested tracking is usually the Stealth skill rating that was used by the quarry. A character whose Track skill equals that target number can follow a recent trail at one-fourth normal walking speed. A trail is "recent" for one day in relatively quiet places (such as a forest during a hot, dry week) or one hour in frequently distrubed places (such as a town square or a forest during a rainstorm).
As a rule of thumb, for each point the tracker's skill rating is higher than the target number double the tracking speed or add one more day or hour to the possible age of tracks that can be followed.
Identify refers to appraising valuable items, recognizing famous cultural artifacts, recalling which nobility owns certain jewelry, verifying the authenticity of a signature, and other situations of recalling information about a particular item.
Lore refers to knowledge of general helpful facts and cultural information: details about history, society, laws, notable families, religious practices, and so forth.
Either can help a character fabricate reasonable-sounding falsehoods.
A character may use Identify/Lore during contested skill use in the same way as Perception: earned losses are delayed and can be used later by the character or an ally. The character has recalled some helpful technique or advice which can be shared (all dust spiders shun fire, the Kobalt spearmen of that clan favor their right side, merchants in this guild give discounts to people who know a password, etc.). Unlike the Perception skill, the delayed losses are only be applied to a single success. But the delayed losses can applied to whichever skill the target is currently using. (The PC could remember that detail about that Kobalt clan before the spearmen picked up or used their spears.)
Identify/Lore thus allows teamwork to cause a single larger effects even if the opponent has changed its chosen skill.
Bargain is used to haggle over prices or otherwise steer a conflict of interests to a workable compromise.
For uncontested skill use change the price 5% for each point the bargainer's skill rating is higher or lower than the threshold.
Wonder measures the ability to produce practical attitudes and understandings through feeling the grandeur and drama inherent in a situation. Awe and amazement can be a form of thinking, and insight and wisdom can spring from encountering the indescribable.
Wonder also measures how resistant a character is to harmful magical mental influences.
A character may use Wonder during contested skill use to startle, intimidate, or awe an opponent using impressive solidity, energetic charisma, and stunning force of presence. Earned losses are set aside in a manner somewhat similar to the Perception and Identify skills: the losses are postponed, are only redeemable by the character who used Wonder, and may be redeemed any future turn that the character who used Wonder causes the opponent to suffers losses.
Disguise measures a character's ability to impersonate someone else using a costume and mannerisms. This skill rating usually determines the threshold that other characters would need to notice the disguise passively with their Perception skill.
Impersonting a general type of person can provide a bonus or penalty. It is easier for a Therion to disguise itself as a generic Therion merchant than the specific merchant who owns a popular shop. It is harder for a Therion to disguise itself as Kobalt.
Etiquette is used to successfully navigate social situations. It includes clarity in conversations, ease in making a good impression, smoothly dealing with unfamiliar cultures, skill at getting attention at parties, and success when gambling.
Animals applies to training, riding, taming, misdirecting, or caring for any animals, as well as maintenance of a riding animal's tack and other gear. Compare skill ratings to find the victor when racing on mounts of similar speed.
Wilderness applies to swiming, fishing, locating food, setting snares, navigation, and other tasks related to surviving in the outdoors, both above ground and underground.
As a rule of thumb, the skill rating in Wilderness measures the number of people for which that character can provide decent food and shelter.
Intuition refers to confidently reaching correct conclusions despite having neither the facts for logical deduction nor an encounter with sublime grandeur to provide awe-inspired wisdom. A practiced intuition includes both experience with accurate hunches and well-developed habits of calming the mind, looking at the big picture, and acting purposefully instead of reacting to circumstances. The skill of Intuition can also be used to instill a false sense of intuition in someone else by subtly planting ideas that the victim will mistake for his or her own insights and hunches.
A character may use Intuition during contested skill use to gain the benefit of any stance during the next round. This is in addition to the benefit of the character's actual stance that next round, allowing the character the benefit of two stances. But the intuited advantage is not actually a stance, and thus cannot be negated by an opponent using the stance of two hands on one hilt.
Hearthwork refers to skill in domestic situations, including cooking, sewing, child care, gardening, farming, and basic home repair and construction.
Alchemy is an old, diverse, and widely-studied art whose history and recipes have flowed together from many cultures. Helpful potions are well-accepted everywhere. Healing potions have helped almost every family, and professional potion makers are respected unless their business practices are unethical or their prices are unusually high. Amateur potion makers are common.
The magic items created using the Alchemy skill are either bottled potions to drink, flasks thrown to release gasses, or goo spread on items to enhance or damage them. The alchemist must prepare them in a lab and store them in glass bottles. Throughout the adventure's perils the glass bottles must be kept intact.
A potion only affects its drinker. A flask releases a cloud of gas where it breaks. The effect begins a few seconds later: after the potion is drunk, or after the gas spreads a bit. Harmful effects can be eluded with one or more appropriate skills, such as using Acrobatics to move away, Wrestle to shrug off a poison, Perception to avoid entering a cloud of gas, or Wonder to resist being charmed.
Although flask making is as old and diverse as potion making, flasks are more threatening, so most places have laws that restrict or prohibit the crafting, purchasing, and/or owning of flasks. Amateur flask makers are rare.
(In terms of later game rules, the area factor is always 0 for potions and goos, and 1 for flasts. The convenience factor is always 1 for all alchemical items.)
Potions and flasks that heal or cure do so all at once. Alchemical items that cause an ongoing effect have a duration of 30 minutes. Skilled alchemist can divide this duration among a batch, so the same cost of materials can create 6 smaller potions with a 5 minute duration. These short-duration versions must be used by their own crafter instead of being bought and sold.
Alchemical items have a one month shelf life, after which they lose potency and do nothing.
As with any magic item crafting, some recipes remain carefully guarded secrets, and a few have effects considered illegal or taboo.
The magic items created using the Machinery skill are clever clockwork and steam-powered devices and vehicles. The Machinery skill is also is used to bypass both mundane and magical locks and traps.
Most mechanical devices can wait indefinitely in a dormant state. Once triggered, they become active for up to 8 hours. A trap that has expended its active time no longer functions, but can be repaired for half its original crafting cost.
Building a machine requires a toolbox. If the machine is portable, no toolbox is needed to set it up in its intended location.
(In terms of later game rules, the area factor is always 1. The convenience factor is 0 for traps that must be built in their location, or 1 for devices that can be used anywhere.)
More complex mechanical devices remain unintelligent. They can sense and react to their environment, and make rough comparisons involving size, weight, or color. But they only do what they were instructed to do when designed. No machine can use other equipment, nor act cleverly enough to benefit from a circumstantial bonus.
Some machines that cause harmful area effects can be deadly if the target is already slowed, weakened, or distracted. These machines cause extra damage to targets who have already suffered an impairment.
Trap building is as old as using tools to ensnare animals for food. Laws restricting the construction or sale of traps are very rare. The more general laws about public safety suffice to punish people who set up traps in places that threaten the public. Amateur trap makers are common, and many children learn a little Machinery as their first magical crafting skill.
The use of large clockwork or steam-powered machines is common in some places and taboo in others.
Talent in the Shoot/Throw skill allows making incredibly accurate point blank distance attacks. This talent's rating shows the maximum range of point blank shots.
A point blank shot never suffer circumstantial penalties. It no longer matters how fast the target is moving, what cover the target is attempting to hide behind, how windy it is, etc.
Talent in Acrobatics/Climb represents the quickness and alertness that allows a character to avoid ranged attacks, even while occupied with another activity. This talent's rating shows how many points of extra toughness the characters receives that only defend against ranged attacks. (Point blank shots from the Shoot/Throw talent ignore this extra toughness.)
(This is probably the most common talent in the genre of "heroic opera" pulp stories and films. Why else are Stormtroopers, SMERSH agents, and Prince John's bowmen unable to hit a hero whose attention is focused on fighting, climbing, sneaking, or other tasks?)
Talent in the Melee/Protect skill allows using one melee action to hit multiple opponents. This could be a flurry of quick blows or a powerful, sweeping attack that injures many foes with one swing.
This talent's rating determines the maximum number of additional targets, assuming sufficient enemies can be reached.
Talent in the Wrestle/Disarm skill denotes toughness and fortitude that allow a character to endure more hurt during contested skill use. This talent's rating shows how many points of extra toughness the characters receives that only defend against melee attacks.
Talent in the Perception/Escape skill shows defensive habits of positioning and evading that allow a character to better focus on a single opponent at a time when dealing with an enemy group. This character can physically or socially position a primary opponent in between himself or herself and the non-primary opponents, so the latter have a harder time being effective.
The character designates one opponent as his or her primary opponent each turn of contested skill use. One or more non-primary opponents must reroll their dice and take the less favorable result. If this character is also using the defensive stance the effects combine: those opponents must roll each die three times and take the least favorable result.
This talent's rating determines the maximum number of non-primary opponents that are penalized each round.
Talent in the Stealth/Track skill represents attunement with shadows that has become so advanced that "shadow stepping" is possible: teleportation from one shadow to another, with locations in line of sight. Each meter of stepping takes one round of preparation while remaining stationary in a shadow. This talent's rating measures the maximum number of meters traveled.
Additionally, this talent's rating determines the number of extra losses caused by a successful attack against a target unaware of this character.
Talent in the Identify/Lore skill represents knowledge of herbal medicines. Unlike healing potions, healing herbs are effective even after an hour has passed since the cause of impairment.
A severe impairment heals after a week's time if herbal medicines are applied daily. The talent's numeric rating reduces the number of days, due to more skillful preparation and application of the medicine. (A rating of 7 or 8 represents recovery in a mere 12 or 6 hours.)
Talented herbalists can sometimes charge many silver coins for their services.
Talent in the Bargain/Wonder skill shows development of wonder so advanced that the character can perform wondrous feats of physical prowess. These wondrous feats allow character concepts that do not otherwise fit into the Nine Powers core rules.
In the sample setting of Spyragia, there are nine flavors of wondrous feats, each corresponding to one of the nine Powers.
The Player and GM can also work together to create new flavors of wondrous feats.
Talent in the Disguise/Etiquette skill allows a character to use wit, charm, and deceit to shrug off social awkwardness. This talent's rating shows how many points of extra toughness the characters receives that negate losses in social contests.
Talent in the Animals/Wilderness skill allows a character to control tame animals. The rating measures three factors: the maximum length of a sequence of steps the animals will perform, the numer of animals that can be simultaneously controlled, and the maximum difficulty of any requests.
How difficult are requests? The optimal situation would have six characteristics:
An optimal situation has a difficulty of 1. The difficulty increases by one for each of the above six items missing from the situation.
For example, with a talent rating of 1, a character could ask his or her own pet mouse to go eat a visible piece of cheese in an empty, safe room. (The instruction has only one step. There is only one animal. The situation is optimal.)
With a talent rating of 4, the character could ask his or her friend's four pet mice (whom the character knows well) to each go to an empty and safe room, pick up some cheese, bring it back instead of eating it, and drop it in front of the character even though the mice will not get an immediate reward of food or positive attention from their owner. (The instruction has four steps. There are four animals. The situation has a difficulty rating of 4 because it is not optimal for three reasons: the animals have not done similar tasks for the character, are asked to do the unnatural behavior of giving up potential food, and will not receive an immediate reward.)
Fast-talking might use the Etiquette, Bargain, Intuition, Hearthwork, or Wonder skills. It normally fools someone for only a few minutes.
Talent in the Intuition/Hearthwork skill represents the kind of interpersonal intuition that allows more effective fast-talking, with the beneficial result that people who are fast-talked remain duped for a much longer time.
In other words, the fundamental technique of fast-talking is a skill. But it is a talent to have the right hunch about whether the target will respond best to a rushed excuse, a call to honor and duty, an emotional plea, a haughty aristocratic attitude, an appeal to nostalgia or sentimentality, a request for a favor that enables saving face, a promise of future compensation, etc.
This talent's rating shows how many hours successful fast-talking lasts.
Talent in Alchemy allows the alchemist to identify magical potions and flasks whose impacts are equal or less than this talent rating.
Those potions and flasks are immediately seen to be magical. After a minute's inspection, the talented alchemist learns what the magic item does and may reverse engineer the alchemical recipe.
Talent in the Machinery skill aids in noticing mechanical traps. This talent's rating is added to the Perception skill to passively discover mechanical traps.
The sample setting of Spyragia uses two types of coins. Most common is a silver coin that weighs 2.5 grams. Merchants and nobles also use a gold coin that weighs 5 grams and is worth 40 silver coins.
Gems are also used for trade. Jewelcutting has not yet been invented in Spyragia, so all traded gems are nicely polished cabochons (and pearls). The standardized weight is 24 carats. Most gems weight less, and have proportionately less value.
Without using the Bargain skill, a PC can sell items for about half their retail cost.
|0||2||wool belt pouch, arrow|
|1||10||cheap boots, wax candle|
|2||20||linen tunic, pick axe|
|3||80||short bow, cast iron pot|
|4||160||longbow, wool clothing|
|5||400||nice horse, one-handed sword, anvil|
|6||1,200||warhorse, chain mail|
|7||3,200||plate armor, noble's silks|
|8||8,000||warship, noble's estate|
For the sake of simplicity, the costs mundane objects are generalized. Prices are sorted into nine categories called impacts that describe how impactful that purchase would be for a PC in the game. The actual cost of a specific item is usually within 30% of the generalized price for its impact.
An exceptional quality item that provides a bonus of 1 to appropriate skill use costs more: price it using the next higher impact.
Similarly, a low quality item costs less. It might be a shield or bladed weapon lacking durability, with a chance to break after use. Or might might work poorly, penalizing skill ratings by 1. Price those using the next lower impact.
(Historical records do show such dramatic price differences between normal and exceptional swords for knights, and for the swords used by peasants! In Spyragia, golem labor makes coal and metal ores less expensive than otherwise, and magical heat sources explain the early development of cast iron and drawn iron wire.)
The prices listed are for an item's retail price. For crafted goods, the crafter need only pay half that amount as a material cost.
Tangentially, a year in Spyragia has 400 days. Each lunar month has eight 5-day weeks that mark the eight phases of the moon. Ten of these 40-day lunar months make a year.
Impact Zero items cost about 2 silver coins, which is also 1⁄20 of a gold coin.
The least skilled laborers earn 2 silver coins in two days. An adventurer visiting any settlement can assuredly find a job with only slight danger to do in exchange for 2 silver coins.
The items that can be purchased in this price range are commonplace and cheap. Goods at this price range include a kilogram of garden produce, flax, hemp, flour, or cheap wine. A few silver coins also buys a day's prepared cheap food, a chicken or gander, a wool belt pouch, a pillow, a tallow candle, an arrow, or a crossbow bolt. This price range can also buy a small tool such as an awl or small hammer. The most commonplace cabochons, such as tourmaline or amber, cost 2 silver coins for a nice 24-carat stone.
Impact One items cost about 10 silver coins, which is also 1⁄4 of a gold coin.
The least skilled laborers earn 10 silver coins in two five-day work weeks. An adventurer visiting almost any settlement can probably find a job with some danger in exchange for 10 silver coins.
The items that can be purchased in this price range are commonplace and inexpensive. Goods at this price range include a kilogram of copper, zinc, brass, bronze, sugar, honey, almonds, rice, most spices, or good wine. This price range can buy a day's prepared common food, a goose or ram or wether, nice shoes or cheap boots, or a wax candle. This price range can also buy a medium-sized tool such as a knife, shovel, or hoe. The dullest rare cabochons, such as topaz and citrine, cost 10 silver coins for a nice 24-carat stone.
Impact Two items cost about 20 silver coins, which is also 1⁄2 of a gold coin.
The least skilled laborers earn 20 silver coins in four weeks (half a month). An adventurer visiting a large town or city might find a job with significant danger in exchange for 20 silver coins.
The items that can be purchased in this price range are commonplace but getting expensive. Goods at this price range include a kilogram of cast iron, dried tree fruit, milk, or butter. This price range can buy a day's prepared lordly food, a ewe, boar, or billy goat, a hat, a hemp apron, a wool vest or gambeson, a linen tunic, or a quiver. This price range can also buy a large tool such as a pick axe, crowbar, or spinning wheel. Pearls cost 20 silver coins for a nice 24-carat one. Enrolling a child as a crafter's apprentice costs 20 silver coins.
Impact Three items cost about 80 silver coins, which is also 2 gold coins.
The least skilled laborers earn 2 gold coins in two months. An adventurer would need some fame in a large city to find a job with enough danger to pay in gold coins.
The items that can be purchased in this price range are expensive. Goods at this price range include a kilogram of salt, tree fruit, or dried berries. This price range can buy a week's good food for a traveler, a sow or nanny goat, a cart, a nice set of linen clothes, a cheap set of wool clothes, a backpack of waxed linen canvas, a dagger with a leather sheath, a shortbow, or soft leather armor. This price range can also buy well-crafted metal tools such as steel lockpicks or a cast iron casserole pot. Attractive cabochons such as garnets cost 2 gold coins for a nice 24-carat stone. Enrolling a child as a merchant's apprentice costs 2 gold coins.
Impact Four items cost about 160 silver coins, which is also 4 gold coins.
The least skilled laborers earn 4 gold coins in four months. An adventurer would need fame and luck in a large city to find a job with enough danger to pay 4 gold coins.
The items that can be purchased in this price range are getting rare and too expensive for some people. Goods at this price range include a kilogram of pepper or vivid red carmine dye. This price range can buy a commoner's wedding feast, a cow or ox or poor quality horse, a nice set of wool clothes, a longbow, a knight's shield, or hard leather armor. This price range can also buy very well-crafted tools such as a brass lantern, polished tin mirror, or thick wool blanket. Diamond cabochons cost 4 gold coins for a nice 24-carat stone. Joining a crafting guild costs 4 gold coins.
Impact Five items cost about 400 silver coins, which is also 10 gold coins.
The least skilled laborers earn 10 gold coins in one year. An adventurer would need to work for nobility to earn 10 gold coins for one assignment.
The items that can be purchased in this price range are rare and too expensive for most people. Goods at this price range include a kilogram of silver or saffron. This price range can buy a merchant's wedding feast, a nice horse, a cart, a fur-lined robe, a chain shirt, a one-handed sword, an anvil, a vise, or a small cottage. Amethyst cabochons cost 10 gold coins for a nice 24-carat stone. Joining a merchant guild costs 10 gold coins.
Impact Six items cost about 1,200 silver coins, which is also 30 gold coins.
The least skilled laborers earn 30 gold coins in three years. An adventurer would need to work for royalty to earn 30 gold coins for one assignment.
The items that can be purchased in this price range are rare and too expensive for almost all people. Goods at this price range include a kilogram of silk, a common family's annual food budget, a warhorse, a war chariot, a two-handed sword, a brigandine tunic, a suit of lamellar armor, or a craftsman's house. Emerald cabochons cost 30 gold coins for a nice 24-carat stone. A year's stay (board, instruction, and clothing) at a university costs 30 gold coins.
Impact Seven items cost about 3,200 silver coins, which is also 80 gold coins.
The least skilled laborers earn 80 gold coins in eight years. An adventurer would need to be a royal's right-hand agent to earn 80 gold coins for one assignment.
The items that can be purchased in this price range are rare and too expensive for even some nobles. Goods at this price range include a kilogram of vivid purple shellfish dye, a noble's funeral expenses, a small merchant's ship or large barge, a fancy set of silk clothing, a knight's plate armor, or a merchant's row house. Sapphire cabochons cost 80 gold coins for a nice 24-carat stone. A year's stay for a noble (board, instruction, and clothing) at the leading university university costs 80 gold coins.
Impact Eight items cost about 8,000 silver coins, which is also 200 gold coins.
The least skilled laborers earn 200 gold coins in twenty years. For almost everyone this seems an amount of money difficult to imagine.
The items that can be purchased in this price range are owned or gifted by royalty. Goods at this price range include a kilogram of gold, the annual cost to feed an entire merchant's estate, a large merchant's ship, a warship, a royal set of clothing, the best plate armor for a noble, or a noble's estate with a courtyard. Ruby cabochons cost 80 gold coins for a nice 24-carat stone. A noblewoman's dowry costs 200 gold coins.
As a rule of thumb, each major chapter in the story should reward the PC with wealth whose impact equals the average of the PC's most important and frequently used skill ratings. This wealth is usually a combination of treasure found while adventuring and a payment from a patron for the successful completion of a job.
This type of treasure is usually not carried by an NPC. It is the treasure pile in the back of Ogre's lair, the treasure chest in the bandit leader's tent, or the magic item found behind a secret door in the ruins of a watchtower.
In addition, each defeated enemy NPC might carry treasure worth the impact two less than that enemy's highest important skill rating.
As with retail prices, the GM should feel free to vary treasure's worth by at least ±30% from the generalized impact price.
For example, consider the treasure from a chapter in the story about dealing with a bandit camp. The PC needed to find the place, rescue a prisoner, and either fight or frighten the bandits so much they no longer bother the nearby town.
First, the main treausre. The PC mostly deals with the bandits using Stealth/Track, Perception, Shoot/Throw, and Melee/Protect. The PC's average of these skills is 4, so this chapter in the story rewards about 160 coins. This might all be in the main treasure chest in the bandit camp, or it might be divided between that treasure chest and what the PC is being paid by the local town to deal with bandits. (The PC also used a bit of Alchemy to prepare some potions in advance, a little Acrobatics during combat, and Wrestle/Disarm to capture one bandit for questioning. But those skills were only used once or twice, so they are not relevant.)
Next we consider the treasure caried by each NPC. The leader of the bandits has a Melee/Protect skill of 5. So this bandit's treasure is worth about 80 silver coins, appropriate for Impact 5 − 2 = 3. This treasure could be some recently looted merchant's clothing in good condition, a pouch of coins, and other items of little consequence. Or this treasure could be an exceptional dagger, and the leader has dirty clothing and only carries a few coins.
The leader's second-in-command has a Shoot/Throw skill of 4, a Melee/Protect skill of 3, and has treasure worth about 20 silver coins, appropriate for Impact 4 − 2 = 2. Or this treasure might be a recently looted quiver in good condition, 10 arrows, a pouch with a few coins, and other items of little consequence.
The bandit flunkies have both Shoot/Throw and Melee/Protect skills rated 3, and have treasure worth about 10 silver coins, appropriate for Impact 3 − 2 = 1. These bandits have worn out and dirty clothes and very used bows, but they carry useful arrows, a few coins, an occasional nice knife, bag of food or bottle of wine.
The children in the bandit camp have a Shoot/Throw skill of 2, and have treasure worth less than 2 silver coins, appropriate for Impact 2 − 2 = 0. Even their arrows are probably not worth claiming as treasure. Some of the children have a bit of food, a usable pouch, a wax candle, or a few coins.
A magic item is a fun piece of equipment with nifty powers.
Some magic items merely provide a bonus to skill use. Others dramatically change a scene and decisively determine how the encounter resolves.
In a fantasy setting a magic item might be a magic potion, flying carpet, or dancing sword. In a science fiction setting a "magic" item might be a nanotech restorative, a personal levitation belt, or an electrified net launcher.
The same rules for pricing and crafting these items can be used whether or not the setting justifies their effects with magic, technology, or some other narrative hand-waving.
Magic items have four factors that determine how much they can impact the world. These are color-coded in their descriptions below, and in the following section with sample magic items. Possibility is pink, area is avacado, convenience is crimson, and affect on victory is violet.
With these rules the GM and Players can design any magic item they can imagine! Simply see how the four factors describe its effect and then total its impact.
Magic items cost as much as other items with the same impact. Remember the guideline for haggling: in uncontested skill use change the price 5% for each point one character's Bargain skill rating exceeds the other's, and for a purchase especially important to the story use contested skill use.
Magic items that people create have a cost per use. Details about range and duration depend on which type of crafting skill is used to create the item, as explained below. As two quick examples, the same effect could have a slightly greater range if made with machinery, but would be much quicker to craft with alchemy.
(In the sample setting of Spyragia, only the Powers create magic items that never run out of uses.)
As always, the crafter of a magic item need only pay half that retail amount for materials. This means that characters who craft their own magic items only spend half as much for the benefts.
Note that a normally priced magic item does one thing. A magic item that does multiple things is equivalent to multiple magic items merged together, and its crafting time and price should be equal to the totals for its components.
For example, a pair of magic glasses might allow the person wearing them to detect poison, or criminals, or Ogres. But if those glasses detected all three things, with separate color-coding for each, then that magic item is clearly doing three things. To be fair, that combination item should be crafted and priced as if it were three different magic items.
|Add to Impact||Possibility|
|2||first die is six-sided|
|3||first die is four-sided|
The first quality of a magic item is its possibility.
The smallest effects only duplicate what inexpensive mundane equipment can do, but perhaps do it more rapidly or conveniently. These items might be used to quickly kindle a fire, befriend a domestic animal, spin wool into yarn, season firewood, provide a meal's nourishment, etc. Or these items might have an ongoing effect such as radiating as much light as a torch, whistling like the sound of blowing on a blade of grass, obscuring vision like a smoky campfire, or making a room smell like roses. These effects add 0 to the impact.
Other magic items duplicate what expensive mundane equipment can do, but again perhaps more rapidly or conveniently. The magic item heals as well as the best mundane herbs or medicines, heats or cools as well as a stove or block of ice, protects someone as well as the best armor, or makes an area deadly like a spilled vat of boiling oil. Those effects add 1 to the impact.
Other magic items duplicate what not what equipment can do, but what labor could accomplish: lifting, carrying, searching, removing disguises, mimicking noises people make, delivering a message, etc. Again magic can allow these effects more rapidly or conveniently. These effects add 2 to the impact.
Effects that are mundanely impossible are the most dramatic, wondrous, and fun. These add 3 to the impact.
A different manner of affecting possibility to to make a tool or weapon easier to use. A magic item can allow the user to start the turn's die rolls with a six-sided die (instead of the usual eight-sided die). If that roll is successful the subsquent rolls continue as usual with possibly eight-, ten-, twelve-, and/or twenty-sided dice qualifying or succeeding. These magic items add 2 to the impact.
Magic items that allow the user to start the turn's die roll with a four-sided die add 3 to the impact.
|Add to Impact||Area|
|1||set up the area|
|2||quickly fill area|
The second factor that determines impact is the effect's area.
Many effects only affect the character using the magic item, or a single object. These add 0 to the impact. (All alchemy potions and goos are of this category.)
Some magic items effect an area, but only after the character using the item personally sets up the area. This could be assembling a device, arming a trap, drawing a magic circle, waiting for a flask's gas cloud to spread, etc. That adds 1 to the impact. (All alchemy flasks are of this category.)
Other effects immediately fill an area or volume. These add 2 to the impact.
The maximum radius of the effect depends upon the type of magic item and the crafter's skill.
|Add to Impact||Convenience|
|0||not portable, no range|
|1||portable, delay, no range|
|2||portable, delay, can have range|
|3||portable, immediate, can have range|
The third factor that determines impact is the effect's convenience, which is a combination of range, improvisatoinal potential, and speed of use.
The least convenient magic items must be created in advance at a laboratory, workshop, magic shrine, or other noteworthy location and are not portable. Their effects have no range. These effects add 0 to the impact. (This category includes traps that must be built in their location.)
Only slightly less convenient magic are portable (whether or not they must be created in advance at a special location), but still have has no range. Furthermore, their effect has a delayed start as a drunk potion slowly takes effect, a gas slowly spreads, a trap is installed in its new location, a handheld machine warms up, a piece of enchanted artwork is activated with a song or a long chant, etc. These effects add 1 to the impact. (All alchemy items are of this category, as are portable traps.)
Magic items of medium convenience can be created anywhere, are portable, and the item's effect can have range instead of only happening at the user's location, but these items still have a delayed start. These effects add 2 to the impact.
The most convenient effects can be created anywhere, have range, and have an effect that begins immediately. Effects like these add 3 to the impact.
|Add to Impact||Affect on Victory|
|0||no damage, or skill dependent|
|1||cause or cure impairments|
|1 or 2||additional 1 or 2 losses|
|1 to 5||makes a skill roll of that rating|
The fourth factor that determines impact is how the item effects victory.
Effects that do not involve victory add 0 to the impact.
Some effects do earn victory, but only based upon the same skill use as mundane equipment. These also add 0 to the impact. If someone prefers not to use a bow and arrow but wishes to craft or buy a wand that shoot icicles to the same effect, it is inexpensive to do so.
Some effects cause or cure impairments. These add 1 to the impact. If used to cause an impairment they must be targeted with successful skill use. If used to cure they must be used within an hour.
Some magic items allow a die roll that causes a loss to cause more losses, often by causing an attack to also trip, stun, burn, ensnare, slow, or befuddle the target. Others automatically put these effects to anyone who enters or spends a turn in their area. These effects add 1 or 2 to the impact, corresponding with whether they cause each die that already threatens the target to earn 1 or 2 additional losses. (If the wand of icicles was more threatening than a mundane bow and arrow, either because it froze whomever it hit or caused larger wounds, then it would have a higher impact.)
Some effects simulate using a skill, such as a trap that shoots a dart or poison that might knock unconscious the drinker. These add 1 to 5 to the impact, corresponding to the skill rating used.
The most potent effects decisively win the conflict themselves, and add 5 to the impact.
Tangentially, it is advised that Nine Powers stories do not include "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 divination 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 Players can enjoy just because the PC has become highly skilled with magical crafting.
Often the four crafting skills can create functionally equivalent items. A character that wants to fly could drink a flying potion, use a backpack-helicopter machine, expend one charge of a cape of flight, or attach air-crampons to his or her boots.
Functionally equivalent magic items would all have an identical monetary cost per use. However, the crafting skill used to create them will make the items distinct in many ways.
|Costly Materials||alchemical ingredients||lots of fragile springs, gears, and tubes||expensive artwork (including artistic tools or weapons) to be enchanted||none, but causes mental fatigue|
|Duration||30 minutes||up to 8 active hours||charges can last until midnight||concentration|
|Area Option||radius 2 per skill rating||radius 4 per skill rating||radius 3 per skill rating||equals Wonder talent rating|
|Range Option||flasks may be thrown to splash liquid or release a gas cloud||machines can launch projectiles||either has no range,
|equals Wonder talent rating|
|Multiple Uses||duration may be shared among a batch of 6 items with 5-minute duration||run-down machines may be rebuilt inexpensively||artwork becomes magic items with charges|
|Crafting Time||5 minutes per impact, needs a laboratory||1 hour per impact, needs a toolbox||10 minutes per impact, crafter enters a trance||1 minute per impact|
|Dangerous When||targets fail to passively elude effects||target already suffering an impairment||targets fail to passively elude effects||circumstances are right|
|Fixed Factors||0 area for potions/goos,
1 area for flasks,
|traps have 1 area,
0 or 1 convenience
|never 5 victory||never 3 possibility|
|Other Issues||1 month shelf life||machines can be bypassed or destroyed||item vanishes after last charge used||the only crafting done without following a recipe|
Crafting any magic item is uncontested skill use that requires a skill rating at least equal to the magic item's total impact (minimum 1). No bonuses can assist this skill use. The crafter must have both hands free, and constructs his or her creation by hand.
These rules assume magic item crafters using the Alchemy, Machinery, and Musing skills follow a clear recipe or procedure, either memorized on written down. If the crafter is improvising he or she suffers a 2 point situational penalty. This penalty is reduced to a 1 point situational penalty if the crafter has a prototype to reverse engineer.
Characters should keep track of which recipes they know. Most new PCs with crafting skills know only a few common, inexpensive recipes. During adventures the PC will find new recipes. Thus the Player slowly gains options as the PC gains a different type of power than measured by skill or talent ratings.
(Most GMs and Players do not find it fun to actually detail the recipes and keep track of required ingredients. We want nifty magic powers, not mundane bookkeeping chores!)
If you are using these rules with a different setting, create other columns for the above table. What type of duration, area, and range would items have when created with the spaceship's nano-tech fabricator?
Consider that certain stories might focus on a crafting task. For example, a very powerful recipe might be too tricky to create without a rare location that is the goal of a quest, or a potent alchemical gas can only be made in the royal alchemy laboratory, or a uniquely powerful musing item can only be made where research and obscure equipment have proven three ley-lines converge.
Here are some sample fantasy magic items. Within an adventure most would have more interesting and fun names. But simple names are best for making text searchable.
Fancy Fire Pit (Impact 0 = 0 possibility + 0 area + 0 convenience + 0 victory)
This fire pit has some mechanical augmentation. When active, it emits large sparks to help kindle a fire. It is not portable, but it is still an affordable convenience because its 8 hours of active use can be spread out over months or years.
Domestic Animal Friendship Potion (Impact 1 = 0 possibility + 0 area + 1 convenience + 0 victory)
This potion is given to a domestic animal, often by mixing it in food. For the potion's duration the animal becomes very fond of the person who fed it the potion, as if that person had been a kind and caring pet owner for many years.
Cooking Disk (Impact 1 = 0 possibility + 0 area + 1 convenience + 0 victory)
This practical device causes items placed on top of it to be heated. The change in temperature is not quick enough to harm a creature mobile enough to move away.
Healthy Hearth (Impact 1 = 0 possibility + 0 area + 1 convenience + 0 victory)
Another practical kitchen device is this fireplace whose machinery will remove from food placed within any parasites and diseases, quickly and without needing to change the food's temperature.
Silent Shoe Soles (Impact 2 = 1 possibility + 0 area + 1 convenience + 0 victory)
This alchemical goo is spread on the soles of a pair of shoes. It hardens into a material that allows silent steps.
Pressure Plate Dart Trap (Impact 2 = 0 possibility + 1 area + 0 convenience + 1 victory)
This trap is intended to be a warning to scare away burglars. It shoots darts when a pressure plate is triggered. The darts are small, and their attack only has skill rating 1.
Alarm Wire (Impact 2 = 0 possibility + 1 area + 1 convenience + 0 victory)
When a creature steps on or across this wire device, a noise happens. Guards set up alarm wires to monitor seldom used doorways, and some adventurers use these devices to sleep more safely in a dungeon. Because such a low impact ward is easy to elude, the wires are often hidden under dirt or a carpet.
Alchemist's Undervest (Impact 2 = 1 possibility + 0 area + 1 convenience + 0 victory)
This under-vest has internal pockets lined with hinged metal plates. It is designed to store flasks safely, yet enable smashing one against the body when needed.
Linked Gloves (Impact 2 = 0 possibility + 0 area + 2 convenience + 0 victory)
Two pairs of enchanted gloves are magically linked. The wearers activate their magic by flexing the fingers in certain motions. Then the gloves become useful for secretly signaling. While in range, when one pair is used to make intuitive certain gestures, the wearer of the other pair feels gentle taps on the hands in an understandable code.
Imperishable Sack (Impact 2 = 1 possibility + 0 area + 1 convenience + 0 victory)
Fancy embroidery and colorful drawstrings show this sack is special. When the drawstrings are tied a certain way, the enchantment activates and food within is prevented from spoiling. There is no temperature change, so the food need not be thawed like food stored in a normal icebox.
Tempest Leaves (Impact 2 = 2 possibility + 0 area + 0 convenience + 0 victory)
A serving of magical tea leaves that makes a teapot of boiling water release a cloud of steam (as well as a tiny bit of lightning in the teapot). Above the teapot, the steam shapes itself into a clue about the location of a nearby commotion that was created on purpose to cause bother or stress. Most often the steam forms the shape of someone's face or an image of a building. Each serving of tempest leaves only works once for the magical property, but the tea is high quality and can be enjoyed for several infusions.
Super-Stumbler (Impact 3 = 0 possibility + 1 area + 1 convenience + 1 victory)
Guards tasked with protecting an entryway can set up this device to cause anyone crossing the threshold to fall down and bruise their hand or knee (causes 1 impairment to Acrobatics/Climb). It works like a tripwire, but is not broken by the first person to trigger it.
Footstep Faker (Impact 3 = 2 possibility + 0 area + 1 convenience + 0 victory)
Black market machinists prepare these devices wrapped in thick wool. A minute after being shaken, they begin to flex and crack. This causes taps and creaks that sound remarkably like footsteps. Burglars and spies use footstep devices 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.
Automated Butler (Impact 3 = 2 possibility + 0 area + 1 convenience + 0 victory)
This primitive robot can fetch and carry.
Linked Earrings (Impact 3 = 1 possibility + 0 area + 2 convenience + 0 victory)
Two pair of enchanted earrings are magically linked. When two people each a pair, the enchantment activates the first time either person says the other's name. Then they can telepathically communicate while in range of each other. The sounds "heard" in the mind are distorted, as when talking across two tin cans linked by a taught wire.
Sparkly Searchstone (Impact 3 = 2 possibility + 0 area + 1 convenience + 0 victory)
A ring with a gemstone is enchanted to sparkle with a radiant light after the gemstone is squeezed. The gleams of radience sometimes appear to bend if the wearer is looking for something, as if pointing the way. The effect increases the wearer's Perception/Escape and Track effective skill ratings by 1.
Musing Sensing Miniature Settlement (Impact 3 = 3 possibility + 0 area + 0 convenience + 0 victory)
This table-sized replica of a town or city, made with colorful clay, is not portable after being constructed. When the proper phrases are spoken, the buildings on the replica glow if their corresponding actual buildings contains one or more items crafted with musing.
Honest Mirror (Impact 3 = 2 possibility + 0 area + 1 convenience + 0 victory)
After a mystic phrase is uttered, this this ornate mirror begins to reflect people's true faces. It is appreciated by guards for its ability to penetrate both mundane and magical disguises. It is hated by vain noblewomen who do not want their face seen without its makeup. (The mirror does not reveal shapechangers, such as Ogres or Therions.)
Maleable Mickey (Impact 3 = 0 possibility + 0 area + 1 convenience + 2 victory)
This alchemical potion is slipped into a victim's drink. After a minute the drinker becomes very agreeable to the next reasonable request he or she hears. (The next die roll for persuation has each die that earns victory earn 2 additional victory.)
Spy's Glass (Impact 3 = 3 possibility + 0 area + 1 convenience + 0 victory)
This mirror, permanently affixed to a wall, can be entered to create a temporary invisible copy of yourself. Your real self is trapped until/unless the copy returns.
Treasurehunting Compass (Impact 3 = 2 possibility + 0 area + 1 convenience + 0 victory)
This compass was made by a pirate to help find his buried treasure. When activated, it points the way to the most valuable other item it has ever touched.
Wellness Zone (Impact 3 = 0 possibility + 1 area + 1 convenience + 1 victory)
This device fills the area with ethereal vibrations that makes people rested and healthy (curing an impairment).
Anti-Magic Zone (Impact 4 = 3 possibility + 1 area + 0 convenience + 0 victory)
No magic will function inside this circle. Some are made by spreading alchemical goo in a circle on the floor. Others are constructed with wires that emanate from a special device. Others are drawn with chalk and artistic symbolism.
Invisibility Potion (Impact 4 = 3 possibility + 0 area + 1 convenience + 0 victory)
There are many versions of this potion. Many towns and cities have laws limiting their use, to help prevent crime. Most potions of invisibility also affect what the drinker is wearing. Some cause a limited invisibility that ends if the drinker is touched by sunlight or moonlight, attacks anyone, etc. All invisibility potions increase effective skill rating for Sneak by 2.
Shared Sight Potion (Impact 4 = 3 possibility + 0 area + 1 convenience + 0 victory)
This potion is shared by two people or animals. After a minute they can close their eyes and concentrate to see what the other is seeing.
Acidic Gas Flask (Impact 4 = 0 possibility + 2 area + 1 convenience + 1 victory)
The chemicals in this flask react with air after the flask breaks. After a moment, they turns into a pink fog that causes 1 impairment to any creature entering its area.
Flask of Blinding Cloud (Impact 4 = 1 possibility + 2 area + 1 convenience + 0 victory)
A moment after this flask breaks the area fills with dense, fragrant smoke. The smoke is so thick that it interferes with sound as well as sight, smell, and taste. Within the smoke, all ranged perception and combat skill use automatically fails.
Inquisitor's Watch (Impact 4 = 3 possibility + 0 area + 1 convenience + 0 victory)
After this watch is wound a special way, the hour hand will point to the closest person telling lies and the minute hand to the closest person telling the truth, while the second hand ticks normally.
Rocket Boots (Impact 4 = 3 possibility + 0 area + 1 convenience + 0 victory)
Cloud Climbing Crampons (Impact 4 = 3 possibility + 0 area + 1 convenience + 0 victory)
These crampons radiate a soft blue glow. When attached to any shoes or boots, the glow intensifies and the wearer can walk on air.
Ogre Detection Goggles (Impact 4 = 3 possibility + 0 area + 1 convenience + 0 victory)
These goggles allow the wearer to see who is an Ogre. Vision is unaffected, except that Ogres appear to be glowing purple.
Cummerbund of the Careful Tongue (Impact 4 = 3 possibility + 0 area + 1 convenience + 0 victory)
Some nobles use musing to enchant a piece of their young children's clothing to help the children remember their manners while being introduced at parties. If the child is about to make an egregious mistake in etiquette, the piece of clothing constricts slightly as a reminder. The effect increases the effective skill rating of the Etiquette skill by 2.
Fair Dueling Enforcer (Impact 4 = 2 possibility + 1 area + 1 convenience + 0 victory)
This banner, once unfurled and waved, decreases the effective skill rating of all nearby ranged attacks by 1, whether mundane or magical.
Doctor's Pouch (Impact 4 = 3 possibility + 0 area + 1 convenience + 0 victory)
This ornate draw-string bag's magic is activated with soothing words. When touched to skin it magically applies the effect of the herbs within, without using up those herbs.
Telekenetic Gloves (Impact 4 = 2 possibility + 0 area + 2 convenience + 0 victory)
This pair of gloves allows its wearer to pick up and manipulate objects anywhere in range.
Locator Map (Impact 4 = 3 possibility + 0 area + 1 convenience + 0 victory)
This ornate map of a town or city begins to glow when the right phrases are sung. Then, when a person's hair or fingernail clippings are set upon it, the map reveals that person's present location if they are indeed in the pictured settlement.
Weapon Enhancement (Impact 4 = 3 possibility + 0 area + 1 convenience + 0 victory)
This is the classic example of a weapon that increases an effective skill rating by 2. The enhancement takes a moment to initiate.
Superior Quality versus Magical Enhancement
A magically enhanced weapon could be a sword on which alchemical goo is spread to enhance it for 30 minutes. Or it could be a beautiful sword enchanted with musing that is magically enhanced until midnight when its charge is used. Or it could be a mechanically augmented sword with 8 active hours of use. Either way, the 160 silver coin cost for enhancement is added to the standard price for the weapon (per charge if made with musing).
The economic rules above list a knife at 10 silver coins, a dagger at 80 silver coins, and a one-handed sword at 400 silver coins.
Those same weapons, made at superior quality to decrease an opponent's threshold by 1, would be priced at the next impact level: the knife for 20 silver coins, the dagger for 160 silver coins, and the one-handed sword at 1,200 silver coins. This is an expensive but permanent improvement.
In contrast, a magic knife costs 170 silver coins, a magic dagger costs 240 silver coins, and a magic one-handed sword costs 560 silver coins.
The bonuses can be combined, so that the weapon decreases the threshold by 1 due to its superior quality until its musing enchantment is used or while its mechanized effects are not activated. That would cost 180 silver coins for the knife, 300 silver coins for the dagger, and 1,360 silver coins for the one-handed sword.
In other words, small and concealable weapons tend to be inefficiently expensive to magically enhance, but by the time a knight is ready to purchase a superior quality sword he or she might as well also pay to magically enhance it.
Handcrank Electro-Shock Knuckle Dusters (Impact 5 = 3 possibility + 0 area + 1 convenience + 1 victory)
After these devices warm up, successful punches will also do electric damage, earning one extra victory per die that earns victory.
Glasses of Forced Sharing (Impact 5 = 3 possibility + 0 area + 2 convenience + 0 victory)
After this pair of glasses is activated, you can switch your point of vision as if seeing from any other glass in range (windows, mirrors, glasses).
Pointy Hat of Protection (Impact 5 = 3 possibility + 1 area + 1 convenience + 0 victory)
After activation, this pretty pointy hat decreases the effective skill rating of all nearby magical attacks by 2.
Targeted Tiny Potion of Sleep Gas (Impact 6 = 0 possibility + 0 area + 1 convenience + 5 victory)
Small vials of sleep gas can be thrown or used as arrowheads. Because they contain such a small amount of chemical, they only cause sleep with a well-placed hit to the face, represented by both a successful Shoot/Throw attempt and failing to elude the potion with the defender's choice of Acrobatics or Wrestle.
Deadly Pit Trap (Impact 6 = 0 possibility + 1 area + 0 convenience + 5 victory)
The ultimate trap, falling into this pit causes the intruder to die, impaled on sharp wooden stakes while instantly cooked in deadly scalding steam. Hopefully a hero has sufficient Acrobatics or Perception to elude it.
Liaison's Lantern (Impact 6 = 3 possibility + 2 area + 1 convenience + 0 victory)
This ornate lantern only sheds light for the person or people holding its handle.
Telepath's Tiara (Impact 6 = 3 possibility + 2 area + 1 convenience + 0 victory)
Fancy jewelry that, after activation, lets you hear thoughts in the area.
Sword of Deadly Risk (Impact 6 = 1 possibility + 2 area + 1 convenience + 2 victory)
This sword radiates an aura when unsheathed. Any wound inflicted in that area has increased severity: dice that earn victory earn 2 additional victory.
Perfect Projectiles (Impact 6 = 3 possibility + 0 area + 3 convenience + 1 victory)
These poisoned darts unerringly hit the person who last wounded you, anywhere in range. Being hit causes a impairment, but the attacker earns no victory.
Untargeted Flask of Sleep Gas (Impact 8 = 0 possibility + 2 area + 1 convenience + 5 victory)
Breathing more than one breath of the cloud of soothing gas released when this flask breaks puts any creature to sleep. Sometimes these are crafted so the gas is invisible, to capture tresspassers.
Ultimate Handcuffs (Impact 8 = 2 possibility + 0 area + 1 convenience + 5 victory)
Once these warm up, the person they are put on is paralyzed for their duration.
Evil Portal (Impact 8 = 3 possibility + 0 area + 0 convenience + 5 victory)
A doorway that grants terrible power, but only after you lure someone else to be forever lost into its pocket dimension.
Life Insurance Sarcophagus (Impact 8 = 3 possibility + 0 area + 0 convenience + 5 victory)
An immobile marble sarcophagus with the image of its creator carved in bas relief on the lid. If someone living is inside when that creator dies, the creator's mind replace the other person's.
What about magic items that are not crafted and priced per use?
The sample setting of Spyragia certainly includes those! They are created by the Powers. You can read about them in the next page of rules.
Those are the items that adventurers go on quests to obtain, that villains use to make people fear them, that nobles plot to steal from each other, and that are special delights to find in a town's magic item store. Those items help make stories happen!
In contrast, the crafting economy is about the PC preparing for an adventure. What should he or she make? Does anyone know the recipe? Does the PC have time to make it? Is it really worth the cost? Must the PC spend double for the retail price because crafting it is beyond their skill?