|Table of Contents|
|Introduction and Summary
• Estimating Skill Ratings
• Imagine an NPC
• Imagine Your Character
• Increasing Skills and Talents
|Skills and Dice
• Skill Thresholds for Minor Issues
• Skill Checks for Random Issues
• Skill Contests for Major Issues
|Details in Skill Contests
• Which Dice are Used
• Two Types of Modifiers
• Taking Turns
|Skill and Talent Descriptions
• Skill Descriptions
• Crafting Descriptions
• Talent Descriptions
• Magic Item Impact
• Magic Item Examples
• Non-Crafted Magic Items
• Free Actions
• Special Attacks
• Room Opportunities
• Special Objectives
• Playing as a Board Game
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 help determine if characters succed at what they try to do, and what consequences happen.
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 call 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 problems. 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.
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.
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). The dominant features of this setting are the nine Powers that oversee the world and the six fantasy races that live there. (There are no plain humans in Spyragia).
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 below. However, the setting-specific rules about Spyragia's six fantasy 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.)
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 who have minimal training and experience||Unchallenging - Following a recipe after someone else set out the ingredients and cookbook|
|3||Rough - Guards, thugs, laborers, and others who get occasional training and/or practice||Rough - Making a crumb crust cheesecake|
|4||Practiced - Veterans, diplomats, craftsmen, and others showing fine experience from daily use||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.
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: Melee/Protect 2, Wrestle/Disarm 3, Perception/Escape 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, a 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.
Remember the guideline that a new PC should have skill ratings that total 30, with every skill rated 1 to 4, and no talents. Those starting limitations allow a rewarding sense of progress as the PC adventures and grows stronger.
There are no rules for what a new PC is like. If you look at the character sheet you will see that the sample starting characters are quite robust. They have features specific to their setting. They start with fun equipment that might even be magical. The fantasy race they belong to grants them one or more abilities. They have one or more wondrous feats and one or more extra talent points to enable using those wonderous feats. A new PC could also be the champion of a Power, questing to break a curse, or have great wealth due to an interesting backstory involving political intrigue.
Nine Powers is a storytelling game, not a "balanced" game. The GM and Players should create PCs and NPCs that are interesting and fun, and agree to add or remove rules to help create the kind of story they want.
(For example, we just described two methods to determine NPC skill ratings, neither of which tried to make an NPC or group of NPCs "balanced" compared to the PCs, whatever that may mean. As you will see, the rules, economy and setting of Nine Powers are instead designed to reward creativity and make all sorts of things possible. It is quite clear what challenges a PC will likely be able to overcome, and PCs who get stuck may try different approaches (even risking failure) instead of feeling obligated to go elsewhere with plans to return after they have gained more experience.)
With that preface behind us, let's discuss creating a new PC.
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?") Limiting a new PC to skill ratings that total 30 means that if the Player consistently describes the PC as 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, wealth, advancement tokens, inventory, and known recipes. On the back you can write your own notes about the PC's description, background, friends and relations, special abilities, unusual qualities, etc.
Need help creating a well-rounded character? Try using these brainstorming questions.
What is a short phrase that would describe the character?
Pick two unusual features of the character's appearance: two details of smell, sight, sound, feel, or temperature.
What does the character habitually think about? What are his or her long-term dreams? What habitually motivates this character?
Which imminent events does the character plan for? What are his or her immediate hopes, goals, worries or fears? What is an important upcoming event?
How has the character experienced sudden changes of fortune (quick gains or losses of wealth, status, or power)?
What is the character's source of income? Why is money tight? What are his or her inescapable needs for money?
Does the character have any false appearances? Does he or she suffer from any repeated misunderstandings?
What was the character's greatest mistake? Is it secret? Does the character have other secrets to protect?
Who are the character's trustworthy allies and sources of information?
Does the character pursue any particular recreational activity or hobby? What are the character's favorite expenses? Which vice or virtue does the character use to unwind? With whom?
How has the character been hurt and/or helped by corruption? How does he or she cope with types of violence that are common in a fantasy setting?
Does the character own or yearn for a certain influential item?
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.
During the story most situations 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, use the Animals skill to calmly ride a pet horse, or use the Perception skill to notice obvious features and items in a room.
What happens when there is a chance of failure? There are three types of challenging skill use.
Minor challenges only deserve a single comparison of numbers. The story does not slow down, because no dice are used.
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 this sword requires a threshold of 2. Fortunately, Vroy has an Identify skill of 3, which is more than enough for success.
A character who fails with a skill threshold need not give up and go home! Often the character can 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.
Some challenges can have degrees of success. A higher skill rating can equal or exceed multiple thresholds to 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.
When a PC reacts to sudden circumstances, that Player might not even be aware that any skill threshold was used.
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 a successful skill threshold 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.
As mentioned above, no dice are used when someone can estimate a threhsold for the task's difficulty.
Has this PC heard of the Silver Magpies?
Player: So the letter says the criminals belong to a secretive group in town called "the Silver Magpies". Does Vroy know about this group?
Vroy has a Lore skill rating of 3 (equivalent to someone who has occasional training and/or practice) and his backstory does not include any personal contacts with the criminal underworld.
GM: Hm. I would say the threshold for a non-criminal to know about this secretive group is 5, so Vroy has not heard of them.
Player: That sounds reasonable. Vroy decides to visit some disreputable taverns to see if giving some coins to their bartenders would lead to more information.
But what about situations where the chance of success seems more random?
Sometimes a skill rating represents the chance something happens successfully. In this case it can be appropriate to roll an eight-sided die to check for success. This is called a skill check.
Has this particular seedy bartender heard of the Silver Magpies?
Vroy is visiting disreputable taverns to see if giving some coins to their bartenders would reveal information about the Silver Magpies.
Has a certain bartender heard of that secretive criminal group? This seems more like random chance than a task whose difficulty has a known threshold.
So at each tavern the Player tries to roll equal or under the Vroy's Etiquette skill rating on an eight-sided die. A success would mean that, yes, that particular bartender can share the desired information.
At the fifth tavern the Player finally rolls low enough, and Vroy gets the information he needs to continue his investigation. Unfortunately, now lots of people have overheard that Vroy is interested in the Silver Magpies...
Do not needlessly roll a die when a task has an estimateable threshold. That slows down the story! But part of the fun of a role-playing game is how random chance can determine the direction and details of a story. So do not avoid skill checks when luck seems an appropriate guide for the story. That lets both the GM and Player enjoy unplanned things happening!
Note that passive skill use to avoid unpleasantness sometimes but not always involves rolling a die. The GM and Player should agree whether that type of situation becomes routine with enough experience (use a skill threshold) or always involves risk (use a skill check). For example, a character might avoid a certain crossbow trap because of having an Acrobatics skill rating that equals or exceeds a threshold number, or the character might need to succeed with an Acrobatics skill check. A character might notice a certain secret door because his or her Perception skill rating equals or exceeds a threshold number, or the character might need to succeed with a Perception skill check. A character might infiltrate a social event wearing a disguise because his or her Disguise skill rating equals or exceeds a threshold number, or the character might need to succeed with a Disguise skill check. It all depends on the details of that particular trap, secret door, event, 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.
Skill Contests allows multiple characters to take turns using their skills to compete for their desired outcome.
Each skill contest happens in rounds. In each round:
A skill contest could be a combat where two characters duel with swords until one resigns.
A skill contest could be an argument where many characters plead with a queen to grant their request.
A skill contest could be a character trying to sneak past many bandits to get to the bandit leader's tent.
(We will soon see some detailed examples.)
Characters in a skill contest cause their opponents to suffer losses. In game mechanics each loss is a −1 penalty to one of that opponent's effective skill ratings. Losses can only be assigned to skills the opponet has stated intention to use during that skill contest.
Experienced GMs and Players have practice describing losses in interesting ways.
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.
Because losses penalize skill use, characters whose current effort is unsuccessful are prompted to try a different approach.
Losses only affect that skill contest. After the skill contest ends, all characters involved recover from any losses as they catch their breath, get back to their feet, deal with scrapes and bruises, etc.
Sometimes losses are blocked by toughness. Armor can deflect a weapon hit. A sterling reputation can deflect slander.
Each time toughness protects a character it nullifies an opponent's entire action. If that action would inflict multiple losses, that one use of toughness nullifies all the losses.
Toughness is normally reset after the contest ends. Characters are normally assumed to take a moment to repair their armor, renew their good name in the town they had saved from a dragon, etc.
The character sheet has shaded circles that measure skill ratings and can be used as a "tracker" during skill contests. The first time during the contest that your PC decides to use a skill, place small markers (lentils work great!) on the dots next to that skill's name to show its effective skill rating. If an opponent causes losses to that skill, remove the corresponding number of markers. Thus everyone can see which skills have been used by all the PCs and NPCs, and how close each character is to defeat. You can similarly keep track of toughness.
The final part of each round has the characters take turns. In what order do they act?
Often either the PCs or NPCs clearly initiated the skill contest. During the first round those characters go first. They started the haggling, leapt from ambush, etc.
In future rounds (and in the first round if no characters acted with initiative) take turns by following these priorities:
A character that loses a skill contest 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 his foe was killed by 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 she 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.
Notice that a defeat might not cause any lasting consequences. To make combats an especially exciting type of skill contest, characters that fight can suffer wounds that take a while to heal.
Remember, defeat does not always cause wounds, and suffering wounds does not automatically lead to defeat.
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".
A short example will demonstrate how a skill contest 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 a skill contest is needed. This example situation must be important to the story to deserve a skill contest instead of simply using a skill threshold.)
Vroy Fast-Talks 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 will take his turn first since he initiated the conversation.
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.
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!
Vroy Fast-Talks 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. The guard has caused more losses, so goes first.
GM: The guard interrupts. "Really, sir. Please abide by the rules."
The guard rolls poorly, getting a 7 on the eight-sided die.
Player: Vroy acts shocked. "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-sided 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.
The second part of each round involved characters checking if they can avoid what their opponents are intending. For the sake of simplicity we have been skipping that step. Now let's include it.
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.
Toughness is the most common way a character has defense against attacks. In this example combat, Boxley wears soft leather armor and the giant lizard has thick hide. Both characters have 1 point of toughness and will ignore the first time they cause losses to the other. (The GM or Player may, of course, still describe those otherwise successful attacks as minor injuries or setbacks.)
Avoidance is a second way a character has defense against attacks. Each round, after intentions are declared, characters roll a twenty-sided die for each opponent that intends to cause them losses. If that die roll is equal or less than the rating of the skill the character declared that round, the corresponding opponent is avoided and does not get to act. The character has used agility or positioning to negate that particular threat.
Notice that successful avoidance (with a bigger die) is much more rare than successful skill use (with a smaller die). This is intentional. Over time, avoidance offers a noticeable help to heroes who are being overwhelmed by small foes. Fearsome monsters, such as dragons or giants, can have a bonus to their avoidance rolls to repesent how it is difficult to meaningfully hurt them.
Boxley and the Giant Lizard (Part One)
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.
Both combatants roll an avoidance die, but both roll higher than their Melee skill rating.
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. This attack would cause two losses, but instead uses up the lizard's only point of toughness.
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.
The GM rolls an eight-sided die successfully, but not a ten-sided die. This attack would cause one loss, but instead uses up Boxley's only point of toughness.
GM: The lizard bites at Boxley's leg, but her armor protects her.
The second round beings. Both combatants continues to use the Melee skill.
Both combatants roll an avoidance die. The lizard fails its roll, but Boxley succeeds!
Player: If it is holding onto her leg, Boxley kicks at its head.
GM: Go ahead!
The Player rolls an eight-sided die successfully, but not a ten-sided die. This attack causes one loss.
GM: It shrieks as Boxley strikes it, injuring one of its front legs. It tries biting her, but is moving awkwardly and she easily steps back to safety.
The third round beings. Boxley continues to use the Melee skill. The giant lizard will switch to using the Wrestle skill.
Both combatants roll an avoidance die, but both roll higher than their Melee skill rating.
Player: Does it look ready to charge at Boxley?
GM: No, it seems to be 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.
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?
Notice how both the GM and Player contributed to describe the giant lizard's successful Wrestle attack.
A comment above noted that a benefitial circumstance, item, or enchantment can make a skill's effective skill rating one or two points higher than normal. We need to add some detail to that rule.
Modifiers work the same for skill thresholds, skill checks, and skill contests. They encourage characters to try to arrange circumstances and use resources to give themselves advantages.
A common source of modifiers is high or low quality 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.
Note that an equipment modifier only adjusts an effective skill rating by +1 to −1. It does not matter if a warrior has a very high quality sword and a very high quality shield, or only one of those items. The maximum equipment modifier is +1.
Other modifiers relate 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.
As with equipment, the overall effect of circumstances only adjusts an effective skill rating by +1 to −1. 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?
When both an equipment modifier and circumstantial modifier apply, the effective skill rating can be adjusted by +2 to −2.
In the classic "heroic opera" pulp stories and films, combat is more significant and tactical than other types of skill contests.
Rules about armor and wounds add just the right amount of complexity for our narrative emphasis.
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. (Feel free to create your own armor table for other settings!)
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 effective Shoot/Throw and Acrobatics/Climb skill ratings. This penalty is distinct from any modifiers arising from equipment quality or circumstances.
These core rules are inentionally simple. The GM and Players are welcome to create additional combat rules if they wish. Perhaps characters holding a shield gain 1 point of temporary toughness each turn? Perhaps characters holding two-handed weapons with a long haft may make a free attack when opponents with shorter weapons attempt approaching to use Melee or Wrestle? Perhaps unarmed characters are better at using Wrestle and beneifit from the more favorable of two eight-sided dice?
In combat, when PC is hit by an opponent (suffers losses) and that opponent's die rolled a 1 then the PC suffers a lasting wound.
Roll a twenty-sided die and consult the appropriate hit location chart (melee or ranged). The Player should describe how the wound appears in the story.
Any skill contest action that uses a wounded hit location starts its die rolls with a ten-sided die instead of an eight-sided die. It is more difficult to succeed with skill use when wounded and under pressure.
Would can represent impairments besides cuts, gashes, and broken bones. The sting of a venemous animal could make the PC queasy for several hours, or until an herbal antidote is drank. The bite of a lycanthrope could drain the PC's life energy until the next full moon. The touch of a sand monster could dehydrate the PC. The attack of an ice creature or mummy could freeze or wither one of the PC's limbs. Being creative with wounds makes the story more interesting!
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 also suffering a wound. His Player describes how the crowd pelted Vroy in the head with rotten vegetables, which will penalize his social 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 wounds a 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. The Player and GM should decide together what is required for each wound to heal.
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 skill contests 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 skill contests.
Combat Without a Skill Contest
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 a skill contest.
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 a hectic skill contest. 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 a skill contest.
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 not 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 a skill contest. 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. (Hint: for most battlemaps 4 squares per turn works great.)
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 skill contests, 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 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 equipment or circumstantial modifiers 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 almost always used passively with skill thresholds, 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 a skill contest, the losses are postponed. Later duing the contest that character or an 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 threshold for an Escape attempt is often 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 a skill contest, 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 threshold for 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 a skill contest 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 with the Perception skill, the delayed losses are only be applied to a single success. But the delayed losses can applied to whichever skill any relevant 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. Usually the price is changed by 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 a skill contest 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 a skill contest to gain a useful hunch. Successful die rolls do not cause losses. Instead, the number of success represents the number of future die rolls in that contest in which all dice are rolled twice and the more favorable die is used.
Hearthwork refers to skill in domestic situations, including cooking, sewing, child care, gardening, farming, and basic home repair and construction.
The final three skills are crafting skills used to make magic items. (In a modern or futuristic setting these "magic" items might instead be high-tech.)
Often the three crafting skills can create functionally equivalent items. A character that wants to fly could drink a flying potion, use a backpack-helicopter machine, or expend one charge of an embroidered enchanted cape.
Functionally equivalent magic items will have an identical monetary cost per use. However, the crafting skill used to create them will make the items distinct in many ways.
Here is a summary of the differences, before we look at details. (For now ignore the parenthetical remarks about ratings.)
|Costly Materials||alchemical ingredients||lots of fragile springs, gears, and tubes||expensive artwork (that can be artistic tools or weapons) to be enchanted|
|Duration||30 minutes||up to 8 active hours||a charge will last until midnight|
|Area of Effect||radius 2 per skill rating
(potions/goo have area rating 0)
(flasks have area rating 1)
|radius 4 per skill rating||none
(area rating 0)
|Range Option||flasks may be thrown to splash liquid or release a gas cloud||machines can launch projectiles||equal to 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|
|Source of Delay||after exposure 1 minute to take effect
(convenience rating 1)
|devices need to be set up at the location
(convenience rating 0 or 1)
|no delay, can have immediate effect|
|Other Issues||1 month shelf life||machines can be bypassed or destroyed||item vanishes after last charge used
(never victory rating 5)
The threshold for the crafting skill rating required to create a magic item is the magic item's total impact (minimum 1). If the item directly causes harm, the total impact also measures the threshold to avoid that harm.
No beneficial modifiers can improve a crafter's skill rating. The crafter must have both hands free, and constructs his or her creation by hand.
Most crafters follow a clear recipe or procedure, either memorized on written down. If the crafter is improvising, he or she suffers a 2 point circumstantial penalty. This penalty is reduced to a 1 point circumstantial penalty if the crafter has a prototype to reverse engineer.
For all types of magical crafting some recipes are carefully guarded secrets, and a few recipes have effects considered illegal or taboo.
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.
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. 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. A goo only affects one item. After the drinking of a potion, breathing of a gas, or spreading of a goo the alchemical magic needs one minute to take effect. 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.
Potions and flasks that heal or cure do so immediately after their one minute delay. Alchemical items that cause an ongoing effect have a duration of 30 minutes. Skilled alchemists 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.
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.
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.
Most mechanical devices can wait indefinitely in a dormant state. Once triggered, they become active for up to 8 hours. A device that has expended its active time no longer functions, but can be repaired for half its original crafting cost.
(The half cost for repairs combines with how crafters pay half the retail cost to create magic items. So repairing a device yourself costs only one-quarter the retail price of that trap.)
Building a machine requires a toolbox. If the machine is portable, no toolbox is needed to set it up in its intended location.
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.
The use of large clockwork or steam-powered machines is common in some places and taboo in others.
Characters use musing by holding completed pieces of artwork during a magical trance to enchant them.
The legal restrictions on musing can vary widely from place to place. Some cultures view musing as a natural redirection of flows of magical energy. Other cultures see musing as channeling greed and materialism to corrupt pieces of art.
Enchanted artwork can be made to do just about anything. However the magic of musing only affects a single target (no area of effect option is avaialble). With talent, effects can happen at a distance. Magic wands are a popular type of enchanted artwork.
All enchanted artwork crafted using musing has "charges". Each charge creates an effect that lasts until the next midnight. (Or the effect is instantaneous, like causing a lightning strike.) The piece of enchanted artwork vanishes after the final charge ends.
The artwork must have a value equal to its impact multiplied by its number of charges.
In some cities the criminals are especially bold shortly before midnight because law enforcement will be hesitant to inefficiently use expensive magic effects.
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 better avoid attacks, even while occupied with another activity. With this talent the points of temporary toughness granted by successful acrobatics use during a skill contest can last longer. This talent's rating shows how many of those points of temporary toughness, if not used up before the character's next turn, will remain for one more additional turn.
Talent in the Melee/Protect skill allows a character to guard a location by becoming "sticky" to adjacent opponents. When an adjacent opponent attempts to move away, this character gets an extra Melee attack. If that extra attack causes losses, the opponent not only suffers those losses but is also prevented from moving away.
This talent's rating determines the maximum skill rating of that extra attack.
Talent in the Wrestle/Disarm skill represents techniques of grappling and weapon grip that allow the character to ignore an opponent's armor.
Each turn after this character causes losses with the Wrestle/Disarm skill, this character may ignore a certain amount of armor. Go down the armor table. With a talent rating of 1 the character can ignore a gambeson. With a talent rating of 2 the character can ignore a gambeson or soft leather. With a talent rating of 3 the character can ignore a gambeson, soft leather, or boiled leather. And so forth.
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 a skill contest. This character adds the talent rating to any avoidance die rolls for all other opponents.
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 the wound or impairment.
A severe wound 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 might 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 and say the right thing. During the first few turns of a social skill contest, this character may roll each die twice and use the more favorable. This talent's rating shows how many turns this advantage lasts.
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.
Most artwork enchanted with musing affects the individual using or touched by the item. However, with talent in the Musing skill a person can learn to create enchantments that can affect a distant target. This talent's rating measures the maximum range, in either meters or map squares.
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: for most purchases 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 a skill contest.
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|
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. All musing effects are also 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.)
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||cause a wound|
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 to the impact, and double the number of losses normally caused. (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 cause a wound unless avoided, such as a trap that shoots a dart, or poison that might harm the drinker. These add 1 to the impact and will cause one wound unless avoided. (Remember that all directly harmful magic items should have a sensible skill and threshold to avoid the harm.)
Items that grant their wielder speed add 2 to the impact. This effect allows the wielder to go first during each turn of a skill contest, ignoring the normal rules that prioritize higher skill rating (and resolving ties by moving down the list of skills).
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.
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.
Acidic Gas Flask (Impact 3 = 0 possibility + 1 area + 1 convenience + 1 victory)
The chemicals in this flask react with air after the flask breaks. The gas speads for a minute, then turns into a pink fog that causes 1 wound to any creature entering its area (avoidable with an Acrobatics threshold of 3).
Flask of Blinding Cloud (Impact 3 = 1 possibility + 1 area + 1 convenience + 0 victory)
After this flask breaks the area fills with dense, fragrant smoke. After a minute the smoke has become 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.
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.
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.
Liaison's Lantern (Impact 4 = 3 possibility + 0 area + 1 convenience + 0 victory)
This ornate lantern only sheds light for the person holding its handle.
Telepath's Tiara (Impact 4 = 3 possibility + 0 area + 1 convenience + 0 victory)
Fancy jewelry that, after activation, lets you hear thoughts of anyone with whom you are shaking hands.
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.
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 6 = 0 possibility + 1 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?
Often the GM's preparation for the adventure story includes creating interesting challenges and combat. But what happens if the next sensible event in a story is a combat for which the GM has not prepared? Never fear! Use these rules to randomly describe the opponent(s).
These rules attempt to be as generic as possible. Decide for yourself if the opponent is a person, animal, or monster. Is it a fantasy creature, modern criminal, or futuristic alien? If a random result does refuse to fit your setting, simply roll again for a different random result.
We begin with two definitions.
The default skills for the opponent are all the skills it uses most during combat.
The opponent will also have a signature skill. This is a single skill that the opponent uses especially well, often in an especially flavorful way.
Next we define three values.
The average PC maximum, abbreviated as APM, is exactly what it says. Averaging each PC's maximum skill rating, rounding normally to get a whole number.
The double number of PCs, abbreviated as 2#, is exactly what it says. Double the number of PCs.
The half number of PCs, abbreviated as ½#, is exactly what it says. Divide the number of PCs by two, rounding normally to get a whole number.
Roll an ten-sided die and consult the table below. To create an interesting combat, the table takes into consideration the number of opponents, their skill ratings, their toughness, and how many special attacks (described below) they have.
|Die Roll||Number of Opponents||Default Skill Rating||Signature Skill Rating||Melee and Ranged Toughness||Special Attacks||Note|
|1||1||APM − 1 + ½#||APM + 1||0||1||easy single foe|
|2||1||APM||APM + 1||½#||1||medium single foe|
|3||1||APM + ½#||APM + 2||1 + ½#||1 + ½#||skilled single foe|
|4||1||APM + ½#||APM||2#||½#||tough single foe|
|5||2#||APM − 3||APM − 2||0||1||easy group|
|6||2#||APM − 2||APM − 1||0||1||medium group|
|7||2#||APM − ½#||APM + 1||0||½#||skilled group|
|8||2#||APM − ½#||APM||½#||1||tough group|
|9||2# + ½#||APM − 2||APM − 2||0||1||skilled swarm|
|10||2# + ½#||APM − 3||APM − 3||½#||1||tough swarm|
This table has been play-tested for situations with one to four PCs with an APM of 4 through 6 and talent ratings of 0 to 2. Victory for the PCs was possible in all ten setups, although not always likely. Combats in Nine Powers do have a lot of variation and randomness!
Being an NPC opponent is dangerous and hard work! In almost every situation, the optimal intention for an NPC opponent each turn is to be boring and try to attack a PC using Shoot/Throw or Melee. Thus to make combats interesting we need to give NPC opponents something else they can do for free each turn in addition to their normal attack.
Roll an twenty-sided die and consult the table below. The table also specifies which skill is the signature skill for the opponent(s).
|Die Roll||Free Action||Signature Skill|
|1||use Acrobatics to try to interrupt what a PC is doing||Acrobatics/Climb|
|2||fill map squares with dangerous terrain (exhaling poison gas, spitting acid or fire, etc.) — 1 the first turn, 2 the second turn, 3 the third turn, etc.||Acrobatics/Climb|
|3||heal 1 loss with regeneration||Acrobatics/Climb|
|4||use Melee to make one or more extra attacks (for example, the traditional "claw, claw, bite" or "pounce then rake")||Melee|
|5||use Protect to grant an ally temporary melee and ranged toughness (each opponent can only be helped by one ally per round)||Protect|
|6||heal 1 loss with regeneration||Wrestle/Disarm|
|7||grow bigger if it did not suffer any losses since its last turn, increasing its Melee skill rating by 1||Wrestle/Disarm|
|8||grow bigger if it did not suffer any losses since its last turn, increasing its Melee talent rating by 1||Wrestle/Disarm|
|9||use a limb (or tendril, tentacle, or tongue) to reposition one PC by one map square||Wrestle/Disarm|
|10||use Wrestle to try to reduce a PC's mobility (grabbing, ingesting, etc.)||Wrestle/Disarm|
|11||use Wrestle to try to make a PC easier to hit||Wrestle/Disarm|
|12||use Wrestle to try to make a PC take extra losses from subsequent attacks||Wrestle/Disarm|
|13||fill map squares with magical darkness that only the opponent(s) can see through — 1 the first turn, 2 the second turn, 3 the third turn, etc.||Perception/Escape|
|14||use Perception to notice a PC's weakness while using a certain skill||Perception/Escape|
|15||create ½# illusionary copies of itself||Stealth/Track|
|16||screech or shout, attacking one PC with Wonder||Wonder|
|17||screech or shout, attacking all PCs with Wonder||Wonder|
|18||use the Touristry wondrous feat "Entrancing Lullaby" to begin putting the PCs to sleep||Wonder|
|19||use a trick or telepathic command to reposition one PC by one map square||Wonder|
|20||use Intuition to benefit from a second stance||Intuition|
We still want to make this opponent's actions interesting. When it uses a possibly boring skill like Shoot/Throw or Melee, how might such an attack be special?
Roll an twenty-sided die and consult the table below. The table also specifies any special movement abilities the opponent(s) have.
Special attacks that cause an extra effect when the opponents hits usually happen even if the PC's tougness from armor or tempering prevents that particular attack from causing losses. Your armor or thick skin does not prevent you from being grabbed, drained, knocked back, or slimed! (In contrast, toughness from talents, using Acrobatics or Protect, or magic items can be effective as you dodge or parry the attack.)
Special attacks that can stun a PC can be especially dangerous if the opponents outnumber the PCs. Be sure the room containing that type of opponent has interesting terrain (including a z-axis) that provides the combatants with creative ways to get a circumstantial advantage and use to positioning to limit how many foes can engage at once.
|Die Roll||Special Attacks||Special Movement|
|1||talent in Melee/Protect allows the opponent to lash out in melee against multiple PCs||if the opponent has room to use its full movement in a straight line to charge a PC its successful Melee attack causes one extra loss|
|2||talent in Stealth/Track allows the opponent to deal more damage from hiding||the opponent can crawl on walls or ceilings as easily as the floor|
|3||on any turn has not yet suffered a loss, the opponent can use its action with a 50% chance of success to call for ½# reinforcements or create ½# copies of itself||a sense like sonar allows the opponent to "see" around corners|
|4||the opponent has a magic potion crafted using Alchemy, and uses it to enhance itself||none|
|5||the opponent has a magic flask crafted using Alchemy, and throws it at the PCs||none|
|6||the opponent has a magic device crafted using Machinery, and uses it against the PCs||none|
|7||the opponent has a magic weapon crafted using Musing, and uses it against the PCs||none|
|8||a melee attack uses poison, electricity, acid, etc. to cause an impairment when it hits||the opponent can levitate, but falls to the ground if it suffers losses|
|9||a melee attack changes the terrain to give the PCs a circumstantial disadvantage (the opponent lights fires, drips acid, emits a stench, etc.)||the opponent can fly|
|10||a melee attack allows the opponent to reposition itself or swap places with its target when it hits||also, heightened senses allow this opponent to start with a six-sided die when using the Acrobatic skill|
|11||a melee attack that also succeeds with Wrestle allows the opponent to grab its target||the opponent can burrow through the ground|
|12||a melee attack that also succeeds with Wonder allows the opponent to increase its toughness||the opponent can easily leap high over obstacles|
|13||a melee attack that also succeeds with Acrobatics allows the opponent to stun its target||the opponent moves farther than normal each round|
|14||a melee attack that also succeeds with Perception continues to cause 1 loss each round||the opponent can vaguely sense the presence nearby living animals, monsters, and people, so three PCs (instead of the normal two) must flank it to grant a circumstantial bonus|
|15||a ranged attack uses poison, electricity, acid, etc. to cause an impairment when it hits||the opponent can levitate, but falls to the ground if it suffers losses|
|16||a ranged attack changes the terrain to give the PCs a circumstantial disadvantage (the opponent throws webs, spits fiery goo, etc.)||the opponent can fly|
|17||a ranged attack that also succeeds with Wrestle allows the opponent to grab its target||the opponent can teleport, but only to corners|
|18||a ranged attack that also succeeds with Wonder allows the opponent to increase its toughness||the opponent can easily leap high over obstacles|
|19||a ranged attack that also succeeds with Acrobatics allows the opponent to stun its target||the opponent moves farther than normal each round|
|20||a ranged attack that also succeeds with Perception continues to cause 1 loss each round||the opponent can vaguely sense the presence nearby living animals, monsters, and people, so three PCs (instead of the normal two) must flank it to grant a circumstantial bonus|
Finally, consider using the brainstorming questions suggested for PC creation to add some character to the NPC opponent(s).
We are not done yet! An interesting opponent may not be enough for a dynamic combat. What about the room in which the combat happens?
What about the room might offer a PC or monster a circumstantial advantage, or more ability to determine how many enemies can engage at the same time? Roll a twenty-sided die:
1 — the room has a loft accessible by stairs in this room
2 — the room has a balcony accessible by stairs outside this room
3 — the room has office cubicles, animal stalls, or other small and low compartments
4 — the room was built as a stables or storage room with many nearly enclosed sections
5 — the room was built as a market with many stalls/pavilions fixed to the floor
6 — the room has statues large enough to climb or stand on
7 — hanging from the ceiling are chandeliers, metal racks, or metal cages
8 — the room has alcoves at various heights
9 — the room has tiers of seating (like a sloping theatre, stadium, etc.)
10 — the room has a bridge over a chasm
11 — the room is under construction and has scaffoldings
12 — the room was built as a chokepoint with defensible platforms or side rooms
13 — the room was built as an exhibition hall with large shelf-platforms built into or attached to the walls
14 — the room was built as a lecture hall with desks or tables fixed to the floor
15 — the room was built for parkour training with climbing and gym equipment, and a jungle gym
16 — the room has pits carved into the floor for storage, or trenches carved into the floor to channel water (the covers are gone, or have mostly rotted away)
17 — pools of liquid or twisting roots make footing treacherous in certain map squares
18 — stacks of crates or boxes fill certain map squares
19 — sticky debris (giant cobwebs, strange moss, staticky sawdust, etc.) make certain map squares dangerous
20 — a layer of mist covers the floor, perhaps hiding hazards
Notice that these features are not merely decoratively but provide opportunities for more interest positioning.
Feel free to also add decorative features, such as air currents, loose ash or dirt, rocky rubble, graffiti or chalk marks, broken stones, dead or crawling insects, stains or mosaics on the floor, stalactites and stalagmites, drains, remnants of mining equipment, remnants of crafted goods (shards of pottery, broken glassware, etc.), and so on.
Perhaps this random combat is not simply about defeating the opponent(s)? Roll a twelve-sided die:
1 to 5 — nothing special, simply defeat the opponent(s)
6 — the opponent(s) cannot normally be hurt, but finding using Perception or Lore during combat reveals the opponent(s) weakness
7 — the goal is to find and grab a portable item (grabbing it requires using your turn's skill attempt to succeed with Acrobatics/Climb at the item's location) and leaving: the opponent(s) either cannot be defeated or more of them keep arriving
8 — the goal is to destroy an unmovable item (destroying it requires using your turn's skill attempt to succeed with Melee or Machinery at the item's location) and leaving: the opponent(s) either cannot be defeated or more of them keep arriving
9 — the goal is to endure long enough: the opponent(s) will vanish after a few turns (add the number of PCs to the roll of a four-sided die) but are stronger than usual (add 1 to opponent default and signature skill ratings)
10 — the opponent(s) are eating or wrecking the treasure: the PCs have only a few turns to defeat the opponents before the treasure ruined (find the time limit in turns by subtracting the number of PCs from the number of opponents, and then rolling that many four-sided dice, minimum of 1 die)
11 — this room's opponent(s) can only be defeated after the PCs claim a certain part of the room for a while (roll a four-sided die to determine how many turns it takes for a PC to use Machinery to lower a portcullis, use Lore to complete a ritual, etc.) because more opponents keep arriving until that is done
12 — this room's opponent(s) cannot be defeated and try to block the room's exit; the PCs cannot backtrack because their entry door has closed, a portcullis dropped, they were moved by a trap, etc.
Sometimes the GM wants a break from the work involved with planning a story.
Using random opponents and rooms, the Nine Powers rules can also be used to create a "dungeon crawl board game" where the PCs move from room to room fighting monsters without concern for cooperatively telling a story with a plot arc.
There is no need for a GM with this board game version of Nine Powers. Everyone can be a Player!
We need only a few more rules to make our board game challenging and fun.
Our board game repeats a three step sequence:
The first step we have already dealt with. The rules above allow creating interesting opponents in an interesting room.
After each combat every PC that suffered a loss during that combat suffers mental or physical fatigue that represents the various ways in which PC is getting worn down or is running out of time.
Each PC that suffered a loss during that combat separately rolls a ten-sided die:
1 — Unalert — When combat starts you must wait 1 additional round before picking your first stance.
2 — Predictable — During combat ou require 1 additional round before you can switch your stance from the stance you currently declared.
3 — Weak — All opponents have 1 additional toughness against your actions.
4 — Torn Up — Decrease your melee toughness by 1, if possible.
5 — Easy Target — Decrease your ranged toughness by 1, if possible.
6 — Sluggish — Your movement rate (initially 4) is reduced by 1, to a minimum of 1.
7 — Weary — You must reduce by 1 a talent rating from among the top six talents, if possible.
8 — Overwhelmed — You can no longer gain sente.
9 — Distracted — Each time you might discover a new MacGuffin, roll a ten-sided die. If you roll equal or less than the number of MacGuffins you already have, you do not discover that new MacGuffin after all. (You do not need to roll when an ally finds a MacGuffin and shares it with you.)
10 — Self-Focused — You no longer share MacGuffins with your allies.
The PCs may always decide to end combat by fleeing the current room. The PCs declare this at the start of a new combat round. The combat ends immediately. The PCs escape without getting additional losses. However, all PCs must roll for fatigue whether or not they suffered a loss during that combat.
After each combat in which the PCs defeat the opponents or accomplish that room's alternate goal, each PC will look for a MacGuffin in that room. These MacGuffins represent all the good stuff that treasure hunters might find but not actually use or sell until returning home from the adventure: ancient relics, lost knowledge, exotic artwork, esoteric tomes, clues to solve a mystery, etc.
How many MacGuffins can the PCs find before their fatigue causes them to stop adventuring and return home? That is the tension in using Nine Powers as a dungeon crawl board game!
Each PC looks for a MacGuffin independently, one time in each room. After the room's combat was successful, the Player rolls an eight-sided die three times:
Try to roll equal or under Perception
Try to roll equal or under Identify/Lore
Try to roll equal or under Intuition/Hearthwork
If at least two of those three die rolls are successful the PC has found a single MacGuffin in that room.
Normally PCs will share MacGuffins with each other, so when one PC finds a new MacGuffin all allies will also mark down that they have found one more MacGuffin. This means in each room each PC can gain up to as many MacGuffins as the total number of PCs. (Note that one type of fatigue will stop a PC from sharing MacGuffins).
As a detail specific to the setting of Spyragia, a Dweorg using tempering during the adventure must roll each die twice and use the least favorable result. (That Dweorg very seldom will suffer fatigue, but it is much more difficult to notice MacGuffins with a hardened mind!)
The Players may end the game with a "win" by quitting their exploring and leaving the dungeon any time they are not in combat. Delve deeply, but quit while you are ahead!
The game can also end with a "loss". The first time a PC is defeated in combat he or she gains an impairment that reduces the effective skill rating of all Brawn skills by 1. The second time that PC is defeated the adventure ends in a "loss" for all players.
If you want to gain wealth and advancement tokens from this board game version of Nine Powers then use the following exchange rates after a game involving at least five rooms ends with a "win":
For every MacGuffin, gain silver coins equal to 20 plus an the result of a twenty-sided die roll.
Divide the number of MacGuffins by the number of players to find the number of advancement tokens gained.
Note that the use of MacGuffins to gain silver coins simplifies and replaces the normal treasure rules for story-based role-playing adventures.