|☥“||Plays well with others:
——My report card (grades K—12)
Words have power. This magical rule is based upon the social one. The right words to the right ears can raise empires or crumble them—no spell is that powerful, but mere speech can be.
Social interaction is the most important aspect of the Midian game. Sure hitting and breaking stuff is great fun, but you will eventually be obligated to deal with someone other than at the point of your sword—or you will soon find yourself at the point of someone else's blade. This is a something of a catchall category covering such diverse areas as whom you know (relationships/contacts); how well others know you (reputation); what people think of you (status); language skills; how you act (disposition); how you look; your morals and ethics; as well as titles, rank, and your skills in dealing with others.
There are multiple social elements at work: there are the interactions of your character, and there are the interactions of you the player, along with your fellow players, Game Master, and the Midian role-playing community at large. Playing Midian is a social endeavour. Even if you are playing a play-by-post game on the forums, you are still interacting in some way with other people. Each gaming group will have a unique social dynamic. However, there are a few things that are common, such as a love of gaming. Take the time to enjoy role-playing with your fellow players. In-character conversations over dinner are as enjoyable as burning and smashing. Okay, not always quite that much fun, but they can be. Remember that subtlety can be more powerful and effective than using force. Remember also that you are part of a group environment—there are the other players and their characters to consider. Your character does not live in a vacuum. Think about how you deal each day with your family, friends, neighbours, and co-workers. Now think about how your character deals with those in his or her life.
How you fit into a social environment is a far better guide to who you are, than combat statistics ever could be. Invest some of your character's time in the game world; make it your own. Try advancing your position in court, investing in a new business, or spending some time with the barmaid that you fancy. Explore the dark side of your emotions. Act and react as your character. Participate in the Immersive Game World. It's your world too.
In addition to the social interactions inside the game, there are the social interactions of the players as well. At its heart, Midian is a recreational pastime—it's something that you enjoy doing with your friends. While there could never be game mechanics to tell you how to hang out with your friends, don't forget that they are the reason you are playing. Don't let your character's conflicts be confused with your own. There are social rules involved, even if they are usually unspoken: when is it acceptable to talk, and on what topics, is there eating allowed during the game, who brings munchies, how much are side conversations allowed, can I smoke, can I drink, will we take a break from game for a few minutes, and many other topics besides these. While you don't need to write out a formal social contract, be aware that each person has his or her own desires and boundaries. Don't be afraid to discuss them before or after game so that everything is clear and no one has his or her feelings hurt.
Not everyone plays the same way. For example, some people refuse to allow table-talk (when you say something that isn't an action or your character's speech). Others interpret all table-talk as something your character actually said or attempted to do, regardless of how absurd. Still others don't care; the game is social fun so why act like a jerk to your friends. A happy middle ground is also possible—don't actively stifle everyone having a good time talking with their buddies, but try not to get in the way of the game play. It can be difficult to remember that not everyone plays the same way, especially if you have been gaming with the same group of people for several years. The very thing that your group does without thinking about it, is exactly what a new person needs to know beforehand—or what you need to find out if you are playing with a different group. It cannot hurt to ask questions, or even to codify things. How do you handle guidelines discussions (usually read: arguing with the Game Master)? Is this permitted, allowed until it becomes disruptive, held until after the session, or dismissed entirely? Is there a leader in the group—not just a guildmaster or other leader of the characters' group, but a leader among the players? This may be Game Master, an official leader of the gaming group, someone who leads by virtue of personality, or no leadership may be established at all. Indeed a leader may not be needed, especially if group accord is met another way, such as by vote, lottery, or open discourse. Do you play with any variations of the guidelines? What is added, changed, or removed? A new player definitely needs to know this, even if you changed it so long ago that you don't even remember how it was originally. Are there new races, classes, skills, backgrounds, or other goodies available? Are there any that aren't used, or have been changed? As examples, a group may not allow small-sized Trolls, may have a 'new' race based on a cartoon (ka… me… ha…), or might decide that telekinesis uses the gram—not ounce—as the base unit of measure. Can non-Humans be Vampires or Changing Folk? (There isn't an official answer to this, the default is 'no,' but this is left up to the individual Game Masters). The game is much more enjoyable for everyone involved if a group consensus is reached. Decide what tone and style you all prefer, and what you do—and do not—want in the game (the latter is generally easier to decide upon).
While most game designers would vainly like to think that everyone plays their games the way that they envisioned, there is no way to enforce this without standing watch over every single game with a large stick. Thus, Midian was designed for many different styles of play. Games are possible—and enjoyable—when the Game Master is only occasionally needed to inject new adversity, the books are rarely referenced, and dice almost never even picked up. Games can also be enjoyed by treating the guidelines as precision laws, with even the most mundane tasks spiced up with the chance for a fumble on the dice. Game Masters can vary between excessively permissive—giving mountains of treasure, rerolling all negative events, and allowing the characters to routinely violate the laws of physics—to those Game Masters who only allot experience points, skill increases, or other character improvements as though he or she had to dip into personal savings; the kind of Game Master who seems to think that the game is 'won' when all of the characters are dead. There is no objective 'right' way to play, nor is there a 'wrong' way to play the game. There is only what is right and wrong for your gaming troupe.
Now, stop and take a deep breath. Then repeat this mantra:
Inhale. "It's-only-a-game." Exhale.
Inhale. "It's-only-a-game." And exhale.
This is a game. It is about having fun with your friends. With few exceptions (usually as exceptions for their own sake), role-playing games have a group of people each playing, or 'running', a character in the game world. An additional person, the Game Master, sets the pace of the game, creates plotlines, keeps track of events, plays every other single character in the game world that isn't in the hands of a player, and acts as the final arbiter of resolving conflicts and interpreting the game's guidelines. This last part is important enough to bear repeating: one person has the final say; this person is the Game Master. This is not to say that he or she must lord power over the other players, but rather that having some final, pre-determined, official, authority ends most arguments before they start. This is the unspoken social contract that all gamers enter into. If you ever find yourself getting too wrapped-up in your character or Game Master's duties, and find yourself fighting with your friends, just repeat the above mantra. Also, nothing says the Game Master and the rest of the troupe shouldn't talk things out, whether this be interpretation of the game's guidelines, how to deal with a problem player, or whether to have smoke breaks in the middle of a combat. If for some reason the Game Master's final decision is intolerable, or other mutually acceptable resolution cannot be met, then you always have an escape clause in this social contract: you can take your ball and go home. This is a game. It is about having fun with your friends. A game can involve interpersonal conflict. It can involve heated debates. There can even be emotional involvement with a character within which you have invested a great deal of time, effort, and attention. All of these can be good things. One must keep in mind however, that these are your friends and that the game is—first and foremost—just a game.
Whether you play with black robes & candles in Finland, or beer & pretzels in the United States, as long as you and your buddies are enjoying the game then the ways you play are secondary. Enjoy.
People living in Midian differentiate more by culture than species. For example, a Troll living among Goths would be viewed more as a Goth than a Troll, especially as Goths insist that they are a "lifestyle" rather than an ethnic group. A Hobgoblin merchant hailing from the Byzant Empire would be derogatorily called "that money-grubbing Bizzannite," rather than "that cheap-assed Hobgoblin," and would usually be considered quite different than his more tribal relatives.
Culture, society, and one's place in it, are the determining factors as to who you are in Midian.
First impressions are important, and let's face it, most folks judge primarily on appearance. Your Appearance attribute score determines how other members of your species perceive your character. See the Comparative appearance chart below to determine how another race perceives your appearance.
To use, find your race along the left and read across to find how other races perceive your appearance. To compare how another character's Appearance stacks up according to the standards of beauty of your species, find your species across the top and look down to the race of the character in question. E.g. Humans don't consider Dwarves attractive, so if playing a Dwarf your appearance is effectively 3 lower to Humans. Your appearance is normal when viewed by other Dwarves, and you would perceive Humans neither favourably nor disfavourably.
|⇓ How YOU see THEM ⇓|
|⇒ How THEY see YOU ⇒||Dwarf||—||-6||-4||-3||-2||-3||-7||-3||-5||±0|
Unless otherwise noted, subspecies are counted as the main species on this chart. For example, those that are inherently Human, i.e. Gaijin, Lycanthropes, MetaHumans, count as Human for this chart. Other than Goblins and Hobgoblins all other Fae are treated on this chart as Elves.
How does your character look? Is he an athletic and bronze-skinned; or short, pasty, and dumpy-looking? Your attributes provide a general guide: high Strength could mean that you are tall and stout, or muscular (or both); low Grace means that you have poor posture and walk slouched, or that you just have a funny walk; someone with a high Agility makes steady, sure movements; and of course, Appearance is how good-looking you are… or not.
Your species and ethnic group also help determine how you look. Many Bizzannites are dark-complexioned, and Goths are almost universally pale. Elves are never heavy-set; and where would a Dwarf be without his beard? Eye, skin, and hair colour (and style), all define your appearance. Standards of beauty differ from one culture to another, but some things are universal, such as clean hair or good teeth. So while a Hobgoblin may have a certain 'type' of look she prefers—and would never contemplate a long-term relationship with anyone other than another Hobgoblin—she would be lying to say that a homely Hobgoblin with a six Appearance was better looking than an attractive Dwarf with a sixteen Appearance.
Style also plays a major role in your appearance. This could be something as simple as always dressing in black or wearing an enormous scarf or you may have a number of gowns and outfits—with well chosen accessories—for any occasion. Some thought does need to go into this. Your burly warrior cannot wear his armour 24 hours a day, or his companions will not want to be downwind of you—not to mention the negative attention you bring from shopkeepers and the local watch. Your style need not be a 3-page composition that you must bore everyone by reading, nor need it be as simple as "the black guy with the big axe." Your style and appearance should be something that helps you and those you game with visualise your character.
You may be non-descript (essential for some occupations), or truly unique (particularly with multiple levels of the Distinctive trait).
The following is a (far from comprehensive) list of visual characteristics that you may choose:
Bad teeth; Balding; Beer gut; Big butt; Birthmark; Body piercing; Completely bald; Different colours in your hair; Dimples; Distinctive walk; Dreadlocks (growing in popularity among Hedannic Dwarves); Eye patch; Eyes that are unusual colours (e.g. a black girl with green eyes); Mohawk or other distinctive hair style (not at all unusual for Elves and Heldans); Nervous habit (e.g. chews nails, or taps on things constantly); Nice hands; Odd textured skin—leathery; 'Outie' belly button; Perfect teeth; Scars—acne or other diseases; Scars—battle wounds or burn-marks; Scars—inconveniencing or disfiguring; Stripes or unusual patterns of your iris (one or both eyes); Tattoos (quite common); Tic (facial or otherwise); Two-toned skin (such as a "farmers' tan"); Unkempt hair; Unkempt-looking hair (takes forever to get right); Unusual pallor to your skin (very dark or very pale); Very hairy; Very long hair (waist-length or more); Well endowed or poorly endowed (use your sick and twisted imagination); White streak in your hair; Wicked evil smile
Here are some more unusual traits. Note that some of these may indicate mutation or Extrinsic ancestry:
Albinism; Asymetrical features; Birthmark that looks like a magic symbol (or Elvis); Bizarre skin tone (i.e. pale with blue tint, bright yellow, greenish tan, grey, metalic sheen, pinkish); Bloody tears; Body piercing—extreme; Burnt-black lines around eyes; Cold and dead-feeling skin; Creepy laugh (mechanical-sounding, squealish and high-pitched, or the full moustache-twirling serial villain "muah ha ha" bit); Discoloured teeth (naturally orange, yellow, green, or blue); Double jointed (fingers that can bend back to touch your wrist or elbows that can bend backwards); Extra fingers or toes; Eyes that are different colours; Fangs—doubled or extended canines (upper, lower, or both); Feral appearance; Hair growth in odd patterns or places; Hairless body; Horns (one or more, small); Hot skin (burning, beyond fever, almost uncomfortable to touch); Ill-fitting body part (too big or too small for the rest of the body, or just not quite in the correct spot); Iridescence or light-changing colouration (such as dark brown hair that looks coppery-red in direct sunlight); Lumpy bald head (may be either patterned or amorphous); Mood eyes; Multi-hued hair; Non-red blood (blue, black, white, clear, yellow, green, pink); No visible pupil; Odd textured skin—baby-butt smooth; Odd textured skin—rough, scaly; Out-of-place voice or sneeze (tiny little squeak for an Ogre or booming window rattler for a Pixie); Patterned skin (stripes, patches, leopard-like spots); Pointy teeth; Red eyes—true bright red iris, not just bloodshot; Reflective eyes (not mirrors, but that easily catch light); Severe scarring (i.e. ears and nose cut off); Shiny nails and hair; Silly walk (approved by the ministry of same); Slightly pointed ears (if Dwarf, Ghoul, Human, or Ogre); Slightly rounded ears (if Elf, Hobgoblin, or other Fae, or an Orck); Stigmata; Strange birthmarks (blue vines that wind up your arm); Talons (finger/toenails naturally curl into points—it sounds cool, but it's really just a big pain); Twisted limbs or body; Unusual body odour (not just body funk, but something odd like mustard, oranges, pine, radishes, or rust); Vestigial horns; Vestigial tail (fleshy or fuzzy); Webbed fingers or toes (for Firps not having webbed feet is unusual); Yellow eyes
Your character's appearance is at least as important as your combat statistics or your name. Your description gives you and the other players an important visual of your character. Your description should be as graphic and detailed as possible. Feel free to embellish your wardrobe with accessories: colouring details, jewellery, superfluous straps and buckles, et cetera. You can also use creative imagery to include how people feel about your character, based on your description. For example, you can describe the way the wind whips your cloak about you in a menacing way, with the shadows darkening your movements. You can tell about the one errant curl that always falls into your face; you habitually brush it aside, but it always falls back. Your movements can also be described: dance-like, aggressive, fluid, or nearly motionless with great economy of movement. Are you usually smiling? Does that mean that you are up to something? Does that smile turn into a drunken leer as the barmaid passes? Be creative. Remember, you are painting a portrait of your character for yourself and others.
Your Appearance rating is an important attribute. It is listed first for this reason: first impressions count in a very big way. I wish this were not true, but as in the real world, you will be judged by your appearance. When two strangers first meet, there exists a form of relationship tension. If at least one of them is pleasing to the eye, some of that tension is alleviated. Characters who are more attractive find themselves more often in positions of leadership, more often trusted, their transgressions more readily forgiven, and people are more apt to like and react favourably to you.
To check for someone's initial impression of you, roll an Appearance check. Success indicates that they will perceive you favourably. Failure means that your inner ugliness shines through. It's not that the other person will necessarily hate you if you fail the Appearance check; it's just that they aren't going to be falling all over themselves for you. The higher the number rolled, the better the first impression, that is as long as the check is successful. Have you ever had someone try to charm you and fail miserably? You know, the sort of person who acts like they think they are really hot, but really aren't. Yeah, a failed Appearance check for a first impression is like that. Some Game Masters mandate these Appearance checks with almost every encounter that isn't automatically hostile.
The Appearance attribute can also be a useful tool of sadistic Game Masters, such as having non-player characters always defer to the prettiest character and treating that person as the leader, always truthful and factually accurate, et cetera. This applies regardless of who the official leader (or the actual leader) really is. Ugly characters may be discriminated against, blamed for problems, accused of crimes, and generally have a more difficult time of it. It's also a truism that very few people are completely happy with the way that they look. Some go to extremes to alter their appearance, such as starvation diets, toxic hair dyes and makeup, dangerously strenuous workouts, even intensive surgery to suck out fat or reshape one's nose several dozen times. Almost all of us have some feature that they wish was larger, smaller, or shaped differently.
Every character has at least two contacts to start; no matter how annoying or boring you are, you at least know somebody. Contacts describe the relationships you have with nonplayer characters. Additional contacts can be gained from backgrounds or classes. These basic contacts need to be fleshed out, with a name, occupation (or position, or class), or nature of your relationship, at the very least. Very personable characters start out with more contacts, or greater quality of contacts. The bonus contacts from a high Personality rating can be held in reserve and fleshed out later. However, you cannot gain any benefits from these undetailed relationships when creating your character, of course. Additional options and uses of contacts may be found in Conquest—The White Horse
Your starting contacts are either:
- one Companion and one Associate level,
- one Buddy and two Associates,
- or two Buddy contacts.
Companion level contacts are good friends that you have known for years; you don't keep track of who owes whom a favour. Buddy level contacts are often more like drinking mates than truly close, but can still be called upon occasionally for assistance. Associate contacts are associates or are a friend-of-a-friend, you may have worked together for years, but don't go to each other's house on holidays. Contacts are not necessarily the same thing as friends; for example, other player characters don't need to be included on your contacts sheet—but they can be if you desire. Relatives also do not necessarily count as contacts unless they are especially notable or have certain connections of their own. Family members are usually considered separately and you need not fill your contact 'slots' with relatives. This is described under Family below. Also note that you don't necessarily have to like someone to have them as a contact, e.g. you don't have to like the guy who fences your stolen goods, in order to do business.
Another way to describe the degrees of association is if you are looking for a job where your contact works. A companion contact will put his or her own job on the line for you and would hire you themselves if possible. A buddy level contact will put in a good word for you and may suggest how to make the interview go better. An associate contact will tell you about the job opening.
Good relationships require work to maintain. To keep someone at a companion level you should see them frequently—and not just for constant favours. After two years of no contact, a companion slips down to become a buddy. Buddies drop off to associate status after a decade of not seeing one another. Abusing the relationship can be at least as destructive as inattention. You can increase the level of a contact with time and effort (which usually means money). Increasing from associate to buddy involves palling around for a time; increasing from buddy to companion can take years of effort.
Your relationships are with people. They are just as real (in the context of the game world) and have just as much agency as the player characters. To help you flesh them out and fully realise them, you need to at least answer the five (plus one) 'W' questions of traditional journalism: who, what, where, when, why (and how). These don't need lots of detail—if you want to add more, that's great—but you can write the relationship out in short form. For example: Jennifer, barmaid in Citadel; buddy; we dated a couple of years ago, but stayed friends. It's okay if you don't know the answers right away. Think on it for a bit, and some of these can be modified later in the relationship development process, or during game play. For example, the 'where' question can be adjusted later for a world traveller contact, whom you can still find quickly and easilly. As long as it all comes together by the end, you'll be okay.
Yes, Midian is mean; we make you not just come up with only one character, but at least three.
Who are they?
What do they do? Is there an occupation, class, organisation, or hobby that makes them worth knowing? Are they important, or just peons? Do they have useful skills, resources, or contacts of their own?
What's their name?
Do you know them by a nickname? Do you even know their full name? Do they have a title? What about their family ties?
Where are they?
Are they local or distant? Are they mobile or do they stay put? How hard will it be to track them down? Can they travel to you? Do you only see each other when you go back home? Do they come to visit? Are you pen pals?
When did you start the relationship?
How long have you two known one another? Where and how did you meet? Did you used to work together? Do your families have historic ties? Did you meet recently and instantly hit it off, or are you mates from childhood?
Why are they friends with you?
Is 'friend' too strong of a word? Would lover, relative, army buddy, mentor, employee, enemy, or business associate be a better description? Do they owe you any favours? Are you indebted to them?
How are they useful?
This one is a bit selfish, even mean, and fits the optional 'how' question. If it doesn't fit, or you just don't want to answer it, then skip it. It's a bit off to only think of your friends in terms of what they can do for you, but some relationships are strictly quid-pro-quo.
Some examples of contacts are: a city's captain-of-the-guard, blacksmith/weaponsmith/armorer, travelling merchant, fence, noble, alchemist, wealthy landowner, technomancer, musician, bureaucrat/politician, wizard, military leader, scout, childhood acquaintance, someone in a distant land, thief or other outlaw-type, someone possessing a certain skill, drug connection, teacher, or anything else you choose (and the Game Master allows). Contacts may act as patrons, employers, allies, sources of information, companions, or simply someone who owes you a favour.
Your starting contacts can be defined beyond the bare-bones description. There are advantages to having a more fully realised contact than 'some spud who owes me big'. With more thought and attention to the starting contacts, you have greater control over their exact capabilities, talents, and even contacts of their own. While the Game Master may deny you having a contact with triple-digit skill levels, you could still note that your master blacksmith contact is also a collector of butterflies and a pretty good cook (and knows engraving, so that great new armour you got—cheap—is also decorated for free). Knowing who, what, and where for your contacts also helps you more fully find a place for your character in the game world. Thinking about how you know each contact—and the nature of the relationship—is a ready-made character history, and helps you grasp the personality of your new character. Furthermore, the more effort you put into your starting contacts, the more they can be used during the rest of character creation. As examples, if you have an alchemist buddy, she may be persuaded to provide your rogue with a small sampling of metal-eating solvents, or your Master Sergeant mentor could have been the one to teach you how to shoot a crossbow.
People you know are not always someone you have a relationship with. I see the same guy when I bring my car in for services. By coincidence, he's always the one available every time. We're on a first-name basis, but have no contact outside of me getting an oil change. I cannot call him at home. We don't see one another outside of his work. He cannot do anything special for me that he couldn't do for any other customer. He is not a contact; we have no real relationship. Likewise, you might be a regular at the local bar, and have been so for a score of years. The bouncers don't card you; the bartender shows you pictures of her cat. You have a rollicking good time there getting drunk at least three or four nights a week. But you aren't actually friends with the staff. You are a customer—a good one, who tips well, and they'd be sad if you stopped coming—but your relationship with them is rather limited. You might not even recognise one another if you and a staffer passed by one another in the grocery store. In game terms, none of them—even collectively—would take up a relationship slot. Just on the other side of this divide, I have a buddy who's a travel agent. I contact her for my travel needs. We used to work together, before we both went on to other jobs. Even though half of the time I'm calling or emailing her is to see if I can get a better or cheaper flight, our relationship is strong enough for her to count as at least an associate contact. We've hung out together outside of work. We can get ahold of one another without undue difficulty. Our relationship goes beyond the simple job-related tasks that one of us can do for the other.
Bear in mind that your contacts will have connections of their own. People that you know personally should be listed on your contacts sheet; and their contacts that you are aware of, but don't know personally, should be connected to their name with the level of association listed if known (you can abbreviate A, B, or C). The character sheet devotes an entire page to contacts so that you can show a spider's web of influence, with lines and circles all over the place. Space is also available for notes such as reputation, status, notable skills, or areas of influence. Your contacts should be directly connected to you in the graphic representation, and if need be, underline or circle them to make them visibly separate from your contacts' contacts. Bear in mind that the contacts of your contacts aren't your own—you might not have ever even met—but rather are people whom your contact knows. It's like a friend-of-a-friend. Some of the most successful characters—and not just politicians or merchants—stretch their web of influence far and wide, by keeping track of the various associations of their contacts.
Free contacts: The other player characters in the troupe do not count as contacts. Family members can also be free contacts. Children, parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and cousins (but nothing further removed than that) can be noted as additional contacts. Up to a dozen relatives can be added as free contacts this way. Any more and you'd need to build them as a clan contact, using one of your relationship slots. Just a name and the relationship is fine, but any special skills, position, resources, and the like means that they count as a regular contact. Immediate family has the same availability as a buddy, and other relatives like associates.
Family is a big part of most people's lives. It's an inescapable part, as often as not. In many ways family members act as contacts. Families are often more forgiving in general than a normal contact, but some grudges are carried from childhood to the grave. As a general rule, your relatives are not counted against your starting number of contacts. For example, someone with two buddy contacts may select nearly anyone for those two, regardless of whether she is an orphan or has a huge extended family. While it is not necessary to plot out an entire family tree (but that is an option), immediate family should be noted. The main advantage of having a big family is that there are many people who can take care of you. The chief disadvantage of a big family is that there are many people you have to take care of. This is as true in a roleplaying game as it is in real life. Some players feel that families are only liabilities, something for the Game Master to use against you. Others feel that families are a resource to exploit. Still others craft complex clan interactions into such an intricately woven fabric that the character itself becomes only of secondary concern. The truth is something far greater than any of these. Yes, relatives can be kidnapped as plot hooks. Yes, family members can generally be counted on to put you up for a night or two. Also, a family can—and perhaps should—be as complicated a bunch as any group of people. Families can be a source of strength and embarrassment, aid and peril, frustration and hope.
Many character backgrounds reference one's family. You can gain an inheritance, a noble title, or a clan enemy. Many more backgrounds that are specifically about your family can be found in Death: The Pale Horse. Additionally, family can be a potential source of legacy characters (also found in Death) who can carry on your character's legacy after you are gone.
It is only necessary to use a contact slot for a relative if he or she is especially important or influential, and is willing to help you out from time to time. That is, if you are the Viscount's cousin the Game Master may ask you to list him as a contact, but not if you are the local baker's cousin. Also, while some people will gladly do everything they can for their relations—mentoring, loaning money, introducing them to high society, offering a good job and the like—others will strongly avoid doing so to avoid accusations of nepotism, the perception of impropriety, or just because they are sick of feeling like their family is mooching off of their good fortune.
The various cultures of Midian have different takes on the concept of family. In the Kingdom of Formour, one's neighbours are related as often as not, and people often look for potential spouses outside of their village because of this. In a small town your family, friends, and neighbours are generally the same pool of people. Those that move far away still think of their small town as 'home' and are usually expected to visit often or at least stay in touch. Family is of prime importance to the Heldans. From the most powerful Dwarven Great Clan to the humblest Trollish sept, one's measure as a person is due to their family at least as much as their own accomplishments. Several generations will live under the same roof, with other clan members nearby. In the Byzant Empire, nuclear families seem to be the largest common group. To the Goths, family has a very fluid definition and isn't restricted to blood or marriage. They may join other families or create their own new one seemingly at a whim. This is not actually the case, however. The Goths take their families at least as seriously as other cultures, but don't have the same constraints.
In essence, your character's family is yours to create. Some backgrounds help to provide colour, but the details are up to you. You may create a large family overflowing with siblings, cousins, in-laws, grand nephews, great aunts thrice removed, step nieces in-law, and people who always show up at reunions but you aren't at all sure how you are connected. Or, you could be the middle child (of three) from a small nuclear family, the sole child of a single parent, or even an orphan. You could be a great grand parent with dozens or even hundreds of descendants, or you could be a single working Mom raising one kid as best as you can while also trying to put yourself through school. You can be as brief or explicit as you like when describing your family. This can be as short as listing 'Mom & Sister' as family members (in the space provided for family on the Contacts page of the character sheet), to a full listing with names, ages, physical descriptions, habits, skills, and favourite foods of a hundred different kindred.
There aren't really many game mechanics that apply to families. Only the most notable families will have separate statuses and reputation. As a rule, a family large, wealthy, and influential enough to merit even one point of reputation no longer falls under the same concept of 'family' as discussed above. That is, any clan too large or widespread to all meet at Grandma's house for Commercialmas is a greater organisation that you just happen to have been born into. Examples of this include Dwarven Great Clans, Trollish septs, Elven houses, Ogre tribes or Gothic clans and tribes. These large organisations are really more like nations (in the classic sense rather than the modern statehood sense) than families as most would consider them. In other words, just because you are a member of House Obsidrian doesn't mean that Archmagus Volgor will think of you as family (or anything other than as a potential zombie or experiment). If you do not recognise each other on sight, cannot readily trace the connections of blood, marriage, or adoption, and at least one of you has embarrassing stories about the other, then you aren't really family. That said, if you absolutely must have some guideline for your up-and-coming sept of Troll berserkers, roll 1D12 for their reputation and select one appropriate status. Use the statuses listed for Formourian nobility for appropriate choices or select one denoting what the clan is known for or a defining moment in its history. This doesn't have to be a very nice status either. Keeping track of separate game mechanics for one's family may prove to be more bookkeeping than necessary; this should only be done if both the player and the Game Master want to add this extra dimension to the character's family. If you don't want to do this, then simply don't.
Think of the visual representation of your contacts and associations as a map: a map of the social scene, at least in relation to your character. Creating your web of influences as a visual aid can enhance play by making it faster and easier to find the right person to get something done. It also enhances the feeling of being immersed in the living game world, as you can see at a glance who you know and where you stand in relation to other people. It can also help you if you can find a common bond with another character, such as a shared contact (or contact's contact's contact…).
Game Masters should create a social map of contacts and influences for important non-player characters. The work before game that it takes to draw this up will be worth the benefits during. This will make things move faster and more smoothly, as well as creating the feeling of a larger and more integrated game world. It will also prove useful if the troupe needs that person's aid, or is acting against the important person. If for example, the troupe needs to get closer to the archbishop (for reasons fair or foul), they can find out that the under-priest has a fondness for fine Zarrian chardonnay, or that the archbishop's stableboy is dating your blacksmith's daughter. The web of influences acting as a social map becomes more useful than a local geopolitical map showing the location of the archbishop's house.
Powerful and influential people surround themselves with assistants, servants, aides, and the like. This is not just for the work that they do, but also to act as a buffer for the influential and powerful person. If these aides, et al. have sufficient influence and power themselves, they will in turn have their own set of underlings. Government bureaucracies, large guilds, and wide-spread religions all share this feature, with layer upon layer stacked upon one another. This makes sense when you realise that the King would never get anything accomplished if he was constantly trying to field questions from everyone in the kingdom. Most of those issues can be addressed by lower tiers of the governmental bureaucracy.
Another use of a social map is the exchange of information. This exchange can be linear upwards (a soldier sending up a field report to headquarters), linear downward (receiving orders from a superior), or lateral (telling a peer). Data gets lost or altered as it passes from one person to another. There is a social experiment (sometimes called "the telephone game" or something similar) that exemplifies this. As a given bit of information is told to each person in turn, they may mishear something, forget part of it, or reinterpret it in their own words. Something that isn't completely understood is almost certain to be changed in content as it passes through different people. In game terms, there is a -2 penalty for each step in the chain. For example, a general gives a stirring speech to his field commanders to boost morale. The result of his skill check is a 16. The field commanders repeat the speech, or at least try to do so, to the captains of their companies, reducing the skill check result to 14. They in turn meet with their lieutenants—reducing the effective skill roll to 12. The lieutenants attempt to give the speech to their squad leaders, or at least the little they know, for an effective skill roll now of 10. As these non-commissioned officers share what is by now a drastically reduced and altered speech to the individual soldiers, the effective skill has been reduced from the original 16 down to only 8. In essence, by that point the check has failed, and the troops receive no morale boost from what was once an awe-inspiring speech. The -2 penalty applies in all directions: up, down, or lateral. If those uninspired soldiers told their commanders, "We're surrounded and low on supplies," by the time it gets back to the General the message may be transmuted to, "We're winning and all is well."
The social map can also show a chain of command. This is often the most organised form of social map, and demonstrates a definite hierarchy instead of a seemingly random series of interconnected individuals. It is ironic then, that the loss of data as it changes hands is often most notable in such organisations. Of course, this could be because a good organisational structure will have ways to catch such errors—hopefully not before it's too late. The greater coherency of an organisational structure allows greater game mechanics to come into play. Specifically status and reputation may be used. In addition, the organisation as a whole may have contacts, influences, and associations. The leader of a group, as the one in charge, may use most or all of the organisation's statuses directly. Those further down the chain could possibly use some of these, but they are lost at the rate of two per degree of separation from the top. This could be interpreted in two different ways, depending on how the Game Master wants to handle the situation. Either the total combined list of the group's statuses may be reduced two per degree, or two of each separate status may be lost. For example, a trade union has the statuses: Avaricious x4, Trustworthy, and Wealthy x3. These may be dropped to either Avaricious x2 and Wealthy (with Trustworthy just lost) or reduced to Avaricious x3, Trustworthy, and Wealthy x2 (so that only two from the whole total are lost). As a general guideline, someone using the group's status with explicit instructions to do so loses only two from the total, whereas someone opportunistically using the group's prestige will lose two from each status.
Small World hack: Here is a little cheat for Game Masters: reuse old social map networks. A great deal of time and effort can go into the creation of a social web of contacts and relationships for a non-player character that never gets used. The player-types might have killed this person rather than talk, or they might have ignored this important individual, or they might simply have not taken the bait on that plot hook and don't even know that this non-player character even exists, much less how that person can be useful to the players' guild. Rather than start from scratch with each and every non-player character, merely add links to an existing web. Important and influential people often know each other, or at the very least know of each other. This adds greater depth and interconnectivity to your campaign, and really adds to the feeling that the world is a large and living place. This also gives you (as the Game Master) more resources for the non-player characters, and provides them with an interconnected information network. This way, the non-player-types can have fair warning that the player-types are headed their way with nefarious intent. After all, the player characters do not exist in a social vacuum, so why should the non-player characters? Note that this does not mean that you should try to maintain one giant social map that connects the local bartender at every tiny village to the world's movers & shakers, but that you can simply add a few threads to one of your existing webs—even if it is an old one you never again plan to use—to aid in the creation of a contact network for a new influential non-player character.
Those whom you associate with will affect how you are perceived. This could cause your contacts to be wary; they don't know these people. A Troll will stand out in a crowd within a Human city. Guilt by association is also a problem. There are times when being with your companions could be problematic. Being by yourself could get you places that you never could with a group. Your fellow player characters are your lifeline, however, keep them close at hand—even if not directly by your side.
Who's in charge here? The most common organizing strategy for a group of characters is that of equal partners. After all, the players are all friends, so there's an inherent desire for equality. This does not have to be the case. Your character can work for another, who in turn answers to the guild leader. This can lead to all sorts of character interactions. Employment introduces you to people you never would have otherwise met, and it gives everyone an excuse to work together—avoiding the old "you all meet in a bar and decide to kill monsters in caves together" scenario. The characters don't exist in a vacuum; there's some way that they all know one another.
When a new campaign is started, the players may not have consulted with one another during the character creation process. Thus, there is an entire troupe that are expected to deal with one another civilly, when no one really knows each other—the players may have been friends for years, but each others' characters are new to the troupe. One method to help this situation is to have one player introduce their character. The second then introduces his or her character, and how that character knows the first. The third describes their character, and how he or she knows the first two. This continues until all characters have been introduced. A sneaky Game Master trick is to spring this upon an unsuspecting group; it's almost guaranteed to cause the players to work together the next time they create characters.
This is simply a modifier to social skills and other rolls with a specific character or defined group. Influence is tied to a particular pair of characters (or group) and is not necessarily reciprocated. For example, a wife may get a +2 to talk her husband into something, or a popular singer might have a +3 when interacting with her fans. The reverse is not true in either of these cases: no one can talk Michelle into doing anything she doesn't already want to do.
Influence can be further limited to certain skills or uses, such as a tough regular at a bar with a reputation for violence among the regulars, giving him a +2 on intimidation checks. Influence can also be a penalty to a roll; the aforementioned drunk may have a -3 on any interaction with the other patrons or staff besides growling at them. No amount of influence can change someone's core principles or push them to violate those deeply held beliefs. That takes a life-altering event... or torture.
Gifts and flattery can increase influence, usually temporarily. These work great, but only up to a point. It's a quick way to make someone like you, but they aren't really going to go out of their way to help you just because you complemented their shoes. Bribery or seduction can push things further, but are far riskier strategies. Their effect also tends to end rather abruptly once the benefit does.
You can trick someone, or coerce them. The effects are largely the same. Once it's over, they will probably hate you. For the short term however, these are disturbingly effective ways to get what you want. Even if what you made them do is for their own benefit, they will still despise you for it.
For the long haul, being a true friend and companion to someone is the way to go. These influence modifiers last the longest, but take the most time and effort to build. Negative modifiers can also form from a long-lasting bond, albeit under less pleasant circumstances. That is, an established pattern of behaviour builds enduring influence, both positive and negative.
Sphere of Influence
A sphere of influence is essentially a subset of contacts. If you know a great deal of people in a certain field (especially powerful people) or have a measure of personal power in an area then you can be said to have influence. For example, the Admiral in charge of Formour's 3rd Expeditionary Fleet has influence over foreign policy (in addition to influence over the fleet), as does the seneschal who oversees ambassadors; a Bishop has influence over his diocese, as does the Duke within whose domain it resides. Influence can be over a geographic area, or over a church, high society, an industry, the legal/bureaucratic system, the military, a university, organized crime/under-ground, or street influence. There is no game system for influences (i.e. a judge has influence over legal matters, but cannot change the law), but when you think you have enough connections and personal authority to influence something, you are free to make the attempt. The Game Master must determine the outcome based on the innumerable variables and circumstances.
Influence is the true measure of being well connected. Whom you know—and how well you can influence them (social skills)—affects what you can control. Remember that your contacts have contacts of their own and can possibly get things done indirectly. Remember also that a contact represents a person, not just a game mechanic; they may call upon you (or your other contacts) from time to time.
The greatest factor behind influences isn't people; it's money. Being able to grease a few palms with silver can get many things accomplished. Conversely, many organizations can be convinced to support/sponsor an endeavour. Support can come in other ways than directly with cash. For example, if you need a ship because your quest is sending you across the sea. Finding someone to buy one for you is nearly impossible; but if you can convince your friend that collects taxes on the docks to look the other way if you bring back some of the rare spices he loves from overseas, then that ship's captain may take you for free in return for not having to pay docking fees.
Other means of influence will be available, and will vary by culture. Customs, laws, beliefs, and taboos can all provide a source of control over others. Among the freeholders of the Heldanic Confederation, the hereditary allies and enemies of one's family are the greatest source of influences. Warrior and berserker societies may fill the same role as families in this. For Bizzannites what was said about money goes double in the Empire. Being rich enough to own something grants almost the same influence as actual ownership, especially if it is easily affordable for you. Even the appearance of great wealth can make one more influential than a noble title. Of course, outright ownership of something—land, businesses, even people—grants the strongest degree of influence. The societies of Osterre have mostly tribal societies, or at least still have a tribal-style system of influences. Decadent Goths still show some vestiges of this with their infamous cliquishness.
To the Killian and many nations among the Elder Kingdoms, the concept of 'face' is important. That's as in, "what you fall flat on when you screw up". This is a refinement of the concepts of social ostracism from tribal societies incorporated strongly with one's status. To a Killian, one is influential if she performs her duties well and without error. Such a person must therefore be competent, and is thus worthy of respect. For Hobgoblins and Goblins, one's occupation determines influence. One way to consider the Goblin/Hobgoblin mindset here is to think of every job description as having a separate pool of influence. This pool is finite, and is divided among everyone who does that task. The better that one performs one's job, and the more successful, the greater degree of influence one has over that sphere. The Juran tribe of central Formour is a notable exception to this, and uses the 'favour' system of their neighbours. It's a sad irony that what was once considered the noblest of tribes now retains almost nothing of the original Olde Empire traditions.
In the Kingdom of Formour, there is a complex and socially dominant system of trading favours. So strong is this aspect of Formourian culture that some have broken laws or even gone against the tenets of their faith in repayment of a favour. When a Formourian asks for a favour, he sees it the way a syndic sees a loan. That is, they're not blithely given or asked for, and absolutely must be repaid. Favours come in two varieties, or flavours of favours. These are great and small, as in "could you do me a small favour," or perhaps "I would consider it a great favour if…" Great favours are equal to a person's life, health, safety, or financial stability. You would risk financial ruin, plague, even your very life to repay a great favour. Anything that isn't overtly suicidal that is: donating a kidney would be a valid repayment, but not both kidneys and your liver. Breaking the promise to fulfill a favour is one of the strongest taboos in Formourian society. It ranks approximately on the level of desecrating a church.
Further complicating this system of repaying social debts comes from the Temple of Light, the state religion of Formour. To a LightWalker, the faithful should perform twelve great and kind deeds in one's lifetime. More may be performed of course, and lesser good deeds should be done whenever possible. These great deeds are matters of faith to the Mammonites, and are not expected to be repaid as a favour. However, the pressure to repay social debts is strong, and many Formourians will not rest until their benefactor (and often fellow congregationalist) has been repaid. To the followers of this faith, the strength of a great deed is not dependent on how the giver is affected, but on how the recipient is helped. All of these favours, great deeds, and unpaid debts make for an interesting and complex interwoven society. It is worth noting that doing a favour, and its status, are dependent on the asker. The person making the request states that the task is a favour, and whether it is great or small. That is, you can't go about doing something you think is nice and then announcing that everyone now owes you their lives. Similarly, the one owed the debt must in turn ask for something to be done to repay the debt—the original benefactor of the favour doesn't get to pick. Having a favour owed to you gives you a degree of influence over the one whom you aided. For example, if someone asks you to help them hide a body then afterwards they owe you. They should act like it. It's not a good idea to be a right jerk to your friends, but a degree of deference is expected from the owing party. This applies to small favours as well as great, but how strong of a hold is dependent on the nature of the favour. Great favours are equal to an infinite number of small favours. Some people spend their whole lives trying to repay such a debt from long ago. In other words, if you save someone's life you shouldn't ever again have to go into the kitchen to refill your drink whenever you are visiting their house.
Disposition is simply your characters overall outlook. It is how someone who knows you only somewhat will describe your personality. This is often the first impression that someone has when meeting your character for the first time. Sample dispositions are:
- Fiery temper
- Friendly & polite
- Gregarious & joking
- Judgemental—makes snap decisions
- Mean & cruel
- Morbid—odd humour
- Pompous & overbearing
- Sour—frowns a lot
- Stuck up
- Sunny—always smiling
- Total Bastard
- Indiscernible—neutral expression
Ethics and Morals
Your moral code is a guideline to how your character will act in a given situation. They are not strict and there are no true penalties for violating your personal code (except perhaps guilt). However, if you do act differently than your stated code; then your friends might think you are possessed by a demon, replaced by a pod-person, have gone completely out of your mind, or are simply stoned. Your sense of ethical behaviours may be quite simple—even anti-ethical—or could be a highly detailed account of every possible situation that may arise. The character sheet includes space for a representative sample of your morals if they are detailed (or you have plenty of space for jokes about your lack of ethics). You can add to your personal moral code later if you like. For example, you are anti-moral but later realize that torturing animals is where you draw the line (torturing small children however…) then you can add that to your character sheet in the Morals section. The archetypical ethical codes include:
Aberrant—usually has a well developed personal code (include details) but is twisted and warped: can torture, but not to death; can't kill kids; never attack from behind; and/or "if you don't get caught it wasn't wrong" Amoral—does what feels good
Anarchist—dislikes laws and doesn't care much for people, especially those not personally known Anti-moral—likes to do bad things
Authoritarian—believes that one should obey those of station within the proper hierarchy; most people are authoritarian to a larger degree than they would like to believe
Chivalrous—often follows a 'code of chivalry' these are often detailed so to save yourself work you can just write, for example, Chivalrous (Knight-Hospitaler)
Honourable—always keeps his or her word; often has a well-developed personal code (include details)
Individualistic—does what is right by a person, not society; won't necessarily follow unjust laws
Justice—fair play; "an eye for an eye;" may be more concerned with punishment than prevention but always keeps everything fair
Legal—also called Lawful; believes that the letter of the law should be upheld Machiavellian—the ends justify the means
Materialistic—concerned primarily with worldly gain
Might Makes Right—not necessarily evil, may be more of the 'big brother' type
Moral Conformist—goes along with whatever the 'community standards' of right are; mostly this person doesn't want others to ill of them
No Set Code—usually at least tries to do right even if there isn't much of a personal system of ethics (can be detailed later as [or if] it develops)
Principled—also called Scrupulous; this person truly has character; believes in upholding the law as well as the common good; upright and honest, but not necessarily nice or kind
Religious (list church)—follows the ethical teachings of a certain church (not always a pleasant thought)
Self-Focused—has a well developed personal code (include details) and doesn't care about the moral/ethical beliefs of others; holds only to his or her own personal code
Sociopathic—quite possibly truly insane and cannot tell right from wrong
Combinations of Dispositions and Morals are possible, i.e. you can be quiet but have a fiery temper when provoked, or be individualistic but believe strongly in fair play and justice.
Reputation is the percentage chance that someone has heard of your character or if you have heard of that particular non-player character. This can be by name, unique appearance, title, or other factors. The base score is based on Appearance (very attractive or very ugly people are more likely to be well-known), and increases by one with each level. This base fame rating can be modified—either permanently or for just one particular roll—by your actions, how public those actions are, distance, or how 'in-touch' someone is. For example, murdering someone in a crowded marketplace might raise your permanent reputation by 2 or 3 points (you may be a criminal, but a well-known one); if you are a very long way from your homeland your effective fame may be 1/10th of what it would normally be. This method of temporary modifications can also prevent abuses of the reputation mechanics. That is, everyone has a reputation of at least one point. A player may then reason that one out of every hundred people would then be someone that they know. Wrong. The Game Master is free to prevent this by reducing the effective reputations of everyone in the area, if there is no way that the player-characters could know them. For example, if you are in a foreign land, then there may be a -30 modifier to the effective reputations of everyone—player and non-player characters alike. Thus, only the most famous individuals could potentially be known by the troupe. Note that a successful reputation check does not indicate that you know the individual personally (that is the province of contacts), but rather that you have heard of that person, and have second- or third-hand knowledge of them.
Being well-known has both positive and negative aspects. For example, a famous person may be able to eat for free in a restaurant, simply because the owner can now brag about how you have eaten there. Similarly, you may find yourself receiving other kinds of preferential treatment: the best room at an inn, the best table at a restaurant, the best wares of a merchant, et cetera. A famous person may get others to notice, listen, or accept them, and may be able to go places where they would not otherwise have access. Conversely, a famous person may be expected to have more money than he or she actually has, or be expected to behave only in certain ways. A well-known warrior may be asked to defeat the foes of people who just walk up to her on the street, or may be challenged by would-be rivals to her fame. A highly respected syndic may be called upon to speak on behalf of another, regardless of his area of expertise. Someone infamous for their misdeeds may also find the negative consequences to fame, such as being accused of crimes he didn't commit, barred entry into certain areas, or lied to about the availability of goods & services even when he can clearly see that they are in fact available. Such is the price of fame.
Another use of reputation is discovering information about an individual. Just because a character has only just been introduced to the campaign—and thus unknown to the players—doesn't mean that the characters haven't heard of that person. The information gained by a successful reputation check (based on their reputation, not yours) is in accordance to the Game Master's wishes, but typically includes: name, nickname, title, unique appearance, species, and nationality. All of their statuses (described below) are also now known to you—if you know something about a person, then you know what would be 'common knowledge' about them, as represented by their statuses. Certain distinctive traits, backgrounds, and important contacts and allies, may also be learned by a successful reputation check. For instance, you might know that Lucky Powell has the traits very lucky and strange luck, or that Baron Housington is Faeblooded and allied to the Way of the Blade Guild. You also know how famous they are; that is, a successful check reveals their reputation score. Certain information may not typically be gained, at least not mechanically. For example, you aren't going to know that Garon the Mighty is a ninth level character with an 18 Strength, but you will instead know that Mr. The Mighty is a hardened veteran of many battles and known to have a strong arm. Whether you learn someone's class will depend on what they are known for doing. That is, you could learn that Grand Wizard Kwon Min is a powerful (high level) elementalist, but not that she also earned three levels of the rogue class during her misspent youth.
Reputation is not how well liked you are, it is simply the chance that someone has heard of you or recognises you. Your Statuses, detailed below, will determine how you are perceived. Game Masters, feel free to give these to the players. They are a great role-playing tool and work much better than simply increasing the base reputation. Reputation is if you are known, Status is how you are known.
Status is a descriptive term for a character, whether famous, noble, feared, or honourable. Status represents how your character is perceived; whether true or not is another matter. Another way to describe this is that a status is what people say about a character. Some appropriate statuses can also be used as a bonus for social skills, add to reputation, or offer other bonuses, as detailed below. It is possible to have more than one of a particular status; e.g. being nobility in more than one country, or having 'titled' status more than once (for example, Sergeant Dick von York if both squad leader and knight), or Feared x3 for a bad mother… shut your mouth.
One's status is known by everyone who knows that person. This is true of your neighbours, fellow player-characters, and anyone who succeeds on a reputation check (i.e. if you have heard of the person, then you know of their statuses). Status can also be discovered by the 'word on the street' about that person. The Game Master awards statuses if you do something noteworthy—if people talk, then you may get the status.
Statuses are awarded if an act or character trait becomes common knowledge—or at least well-spread gossip—or may be given by a person with sufficient authority or social standing. Even player-characters can award statuses, if appropriate. If enough people perceive a character in a certain way, then the appropriate status is awarded. As a rule of thumb, if at least a dozen people describe someone a certain way, then that person is given that status. 'Bad' statuses can be gained from public insult, spreading rumours and gossip, or by minstrels adding your name to a song or other public performance. Thus, it is possible to initiate a public-relations campaign, either in favour or opposed to someone, and the status is granted if people start to think of the target in that way. Of course, this can backfire—slander against a beloved individual might not be believed, and public perception can turn against the one making such libellous claims.
Some statuses can be granted by a single person. For example, if a Royal Minister publicly says, "I really cherish my friendship with you," then you would then have the Cherished status. Or in another example, someone may be Acknowledged by a noble—this can be either a formal ceremony, as when dubbing a knight, or as informally as saying, "Where the hell's Leftina? We can't start until she gets here."
Statuses can also be removed in a like manner, using these same methods. For example, instead of spreading rumours about how Dishonest a merchant is (and granting that status), instead the Honest status can be removed. Likewise, a noble lord can remove the Landed status by seizing the land that he previously gave. An attempt to add or remove statuses may be blocked or countered, e.g. attempt to remove Wise by making you seem foolish can possibly be blocked by not commenting (other than a knowing smile) and thus not providing ammo for one's opponent, or countered with a philosophical statement that makes the rival instead look foolish. If you really want to try political underhandedness, then try hatching a scheme whereby your opponent will lose status by voluntarily 'burning' their own statuses (thus leaving you in the clear), but their overall plans still are made to backfire.
Other Uses of Status
In addition to the effect status has on reputation, and the special modifiers certain statuses carry, an appropriate status can be used to modify to a social skill check or challenge. As an example, someone known as a powerful and deadly fighter can add Enraged x2, Feared, and Warrior to her Intimidation skill, for a total +4 to the roll. It is also possible to use another's status against them. For example, if you know that someone is Untrustable (such as by you making a successful check against their reputation), then you may apply a -1 modifier for them to their Bullshit skill (or a +1 bonus to the challenge with Detect Lies).
A status can also be 'burned' to ensure the success of a social skill or other check. Note that this must be an appropriate status to the situation. In general, using a status in this fashion means that the status is permanently lost. 'Burning' a status precludes the social skill (or other) check, i.e. the check is considered automatically successful. For example, if you 'burn' your Judicial status to get people to automatically trust your judgement, then you will in all likelihood lose the status—however, if your decisions were correct, you may possibly be able to keep that status. You must state that you are burning a status prior to the roll. It is not used as a retest, but you may use a social retest (such as those from a high Grace) to burn a status after a failed roll.
It is also possible to 'loan' one's status to another. This can be for an alliance, or for other purposes. The effects of all applicable statuses stack for a combined effect. This allows one person to ally or support another. For example, a respected businessman can loan his Honest status to an associate: "I've known this man for years, and I know he's telling the truth." Note that this must be voluntary for both recipients, (e.g. you can't just give away your Trouble Magnet status to everyone you don't like), unless witnesses can be convinced that it is voluntary. For instance, the above statement by someone known to be Dishonest could foist that status upon the unfortunate target, provided your audience could be convinced that this person is just as untrustable as you. The duration of a loaned status depends on the situation. In the 'honest merchant' example, the recipient of the loaned Honest status could use it for that encounter, but would likely not be able to count on his friend's honest reputation to help him talk down the price of his inn room the next morning. For strong long-term alliances, certain statuses may possibly be loaned for longer periods. In all cases, only the actual possessor of the status can 'burn' it for a social skill check or challenge, but you can loan a status to support someone, who can then use it as a modifier for a social skill.
Some of the following Statuses have additional bonuses, but most are simply social descriptors. There can be additional statuses other than those listed here; feel free to create your own. Any term or short phrase that describes what people think or feel about someone will work. Some examples of status and brief explanations are:
- Acknowledged: You are a recognized member of court.
- Artful Dodger: You are known to be a masterful thief (often refers to pickpockets), you always get away with your crimes.
- Avaricious: You are known for your excess of greed. However, your miserly tendencies pay off—at least in other people's minds—this status doubles the bonus from Wealthy.
- Blessed: You receive the blessings of a divine order.
- Cherished: Someone in high office holds you in loving regard.
- Clean: You are known not for your tidiness (that is the Neat status), but for your lack of objectionable behaviour. You are always considered to be fair and honest—unless you do something to lose this status.
- Courtly: Use this status as a +1 bonus when trying to impress nobles or the influential with your graces.
- Disciplined: You are noted for your self-control and desire for order. You receive a +1 on social checks that involve keeping yourself or subordinates in line.
- Dishonest: You just cannot tell the truth. You are well known for your falsehoods (this can be used in your favour).
- Divine: Godhood—or at least the trappings of being a living god.
- Dominant: +1 to social skills when controlling underlings or otherwise trying to bully someone.
- Earthy: You are considered sensible and practical, with a straightforward approach. Some may consider your simple, direct manner crude.
- Elite: You are regarded as representing the top of you profession or class.
- Enraged: Your viciousness and uncontrollable anger are well known.
- Esteemed: You regarded with respect.
- Eternal: You are as unchanging as the tides or as unquenchable as the sun.
- Famous: You are very well known. This status also includes the Well-known status for free, and the area that you are known in is much larger.
- Feared: Those who know you fear you, for you have the power to destroy them. You must be able to back this up to be eligible for this status.
- Genuine: Any hypocrisy on your part is at first believed to be only part of your 'complexity.'
- Greater nobility: This is the upper echelon of the feudal castes.
- Grounded: Your beliefs and principles are firmly fixed. No one can cause your morals or disposition to change unless you desire it. You must have overcome an ethical dilemma to gain this status.
- Holy: Your very touch is considered elevated above lesser mortals.
- Honest: Until proven otherwise your word is considered completely truthful.
- Imperial: This status denotes Emperors & Empresses.
- Influential: You are well connected or your words hold merit to others. You have demonstrable control over an area; see the section on Influence above.
- Insightful: You are known for your wisdom and ability to see the truth in all things.
- Judicial: You are known for your ability to make unbiased and fair decisions.
- Knighted: You have been made a defender of the realm; this feudal status is not passed down to your children and is available only to those who have actually achieved knighthood.
- Knowledgeable: Sage-like information is considered yours to command.
- Known: This status adds an additional +1 to your effective reputation in areas (geographical or occupational) where someone might have heard of you.
- Landed: You have control over a large tract of land.
- Leader: Available only to those of proven ability (i.e. you have been in charge of a group before) and grants a +1 to when you are trying to get those placed under you to do something.
- Masterful: This status denotes those that have achieved level 10 in a proficiency or by having an apprentice skill at master level (not counting your native language) and creating a 'masterpiece' or the equivalent for non-craft skills
- Named: Your last name reflects your title/status or you gain an appropriate last name.
- Neat: You are known to be tidy and organized.
- Noble: You are a member of your countries nobility.
- Polite: Smooth and refined in behaviour or manners; well bred; courteous; complaisant; obliging; civil.
- Regal: This status denotes royalty—Kings, Queens, Princes, and Princesses
- Renowned: You are famed for your deeds.
- Respected: Notable of reputation, and esteemed in deeds
- Sly: You are noted for your craftiness and cunning.
- Sobriquet: You can get away with inserting a nickname or phrase into the middle of your name, such as "Mayor Johnny 'The Mayor' Bledsoe"
- Styled: this merely means that you may expect to be formally referred to by other than your title; i.e. "your grace" or "your royal highness."
- Take-charge: You are known to have stepped up and controlled a situation successfully.
- Tenacious: You are noted for you unyielding persistence. To receive this status, you must have overcome a difficult obstacle that was defeated by your determination and will to succeed.
- Titled: You are entitled to have others refer to you by your formal Title.
- Triumphant: You have achieved a great victory in battle.
- Trouble-magnet: Strange situations (and even stranger individuals) seem to seek you out; this can never be good for those around you.
- Trustworthy: You are considered to be reliable, honest, and dependable.
- Trusty: Another in the series of 'honest/nice guy' statuses.
- Unholy: Whether or not you are in league with dark gods is debatable, but you do make them proud.
- Unique: There can be only one.
- Untouchable: You have escaped dire punishment repeatedly.
- Untrustable: No one would place any confidence in you.
- Vengeful: You are known to have exacted a brutal revenge on those who wronged you.
- Warrior: Many cultures place this status at a premium, considering all others unworthy of respect.
- Wealthy: You are known for having money (true or not) and can use this status allows you to have a line of credit or to get by (buy) without spending cash (use this as an additonal +1 to social skills when trying to do either of these things).
- Well-known: You are recognized quite often. Gaining this status adds an additional +2 to your reputation.
- Wise: Whether true or not, you are considered to be knowledgeable and fair in judgement.
To compare the levels of prestige—either of two individuals or two organisations—one must first succeed in a Reputation check: if you haven't heard of them, they obviously aren't prestigious enough. The number of Statuses that may be viewed positively (in context) determines the degree of prestige; the person or institution with the greater number of positive Statuses is the more prestigious. In a non-comparative sense, i.e. is a given person or group 'prestigious', a dozen or more positive Statuses must be possessed, with a separate Reputation score of 20—and a successful check met, of course. In either case, Statuses that are viewed negatively subtract from the number of positive ones. For example, a would-be politician is known as being Honest, Genuine, and Clean, but has been caught attacking a servant and is also known as being Enraged. Thus, this last Status would subtract one from the count of the previous three.
Prestige can be used in a number of ways, such as determining the likely winner of an election, deciding on a school, and of course bragging rights for the prestigious party. Prestige is also highly useful for determining group consensus (covered below). Skill checks can be temporarily modified by prestige, as well as the reverse applying. As examples, a politician's speech can boost his perceived prestige for the audience—with every point above 10 on the skill check adding an effective 'ghost status' for those that hear him speak, or a university representative seeking to recruit a talented child of a wealthy nobleman can use the school's prestige in his efforts—with every Status above the requisite twelve adding +1 to that skill check.
or, Mob Mentality
Social creatures, Humans, Dwarves, et al. tend to side with the majority for most issues. This is true even when done subconsciously. Three questions are factored into this:
- What do I believe other people are thinking or would do?
- What do I know other people are thinking or doing, because they have stated so or shown evidence?
- What is the right decision—morally correct, most logical, or best for me?
These questions are in order of importance; that is, the unspoken majority view (or at least what one perceives as the majority view) is more important than one's own moral code. The first question is largely fantasy coupled with the perception of public mores, and the final question is left to personal choice, but the second question can be answered mechanically. For each side of the issue, total the Prestige of each outspoken person; the side with the greatest total is perceived as the side with the majority influence. If a particular person has some greater claim on the topic or viewpoint—such as by being the relevant authority figure, an expert in that field, or a respected member of the clergy—then that person's effective Prestige (for purposes of determining Consensus) can be doubled.
Whether they are called guilds, mercenary companies, trade organisations, churches, or schools, groups can use some of these social mechanics. Famous or infamous organisations will grant a secondary reputation score to its members. It is certainly possible for a highly famous person to outshine their group. Robin Hood wasn't famous because he was one of the Merry Men of Sherwood Forest; they were more famous because of Robin Hood. Compare the difference between an individual member's (primary) reputation and the group's (secondary) reputation. If one is less than twice that of the other, an increase in one affects the other. If the group is greater, an individual may increase the group's reputation at a ratio equal to the number of people in the group. That is, given a group of ten people, every ten points one's individual reputation increases, the group is increased by one point. The inverse is true if the group's reputation score is greater. Continuing the group of ten people example, when the group's secondary reputation increases ten points, each member's reputation also increases by one. In another example, if the group only consists of two people each affects (and is affected by) the group's reputation at a 1:2 ratio. In this way, a group of one person always affects her own reputation at a 1:1 ratio and there's no point in separately tracking two versions of the same score. If one reputation score is more than double the other, then they do not affect one another. In this case, the identity of the lesser is subsumed by the greater. In other words, everyone has heard of the Kingdom of Formour, but that doesn't make any given peasant farmer more famous by being a citizen. Likewise, a particularly famous member may change perception of belonging; the group becomes an adjunct to the famous member, rather than known in its own right: "The Iron Men Guild? Oh yeah, that's Agon's men, innit?"
In addition to reputation, a group may also have various statuses. As with an individual person, these represent what people think about that organisation. The main function of statuses for groups is prestige, and to act as a quick description of the public's perception of that group. Many statuses are not appropriate to a group, even if every single member possesses that status individually. There are however, at least as many that can be applied to an organisation. While Styled might not work, Elite certainly can. It is possible to combine individual and group statuses. As an example, the Pope of the Church of Melchom can add the church's Holy status to her personal Genuine status for a given skill check. In order for a group's statuses to be used in this fashion, one must represent the organisation, or at least appear to do so. As organisations don't really have skills (their members do), it is much more common for a person to use their group's status then the other way around. As with individuals, a group's statuses can be stacked for purposes of a reputation check.
Not only may a leader or spokesperson use the status of a group, but individuals can pool their resources by combining their statuses, using one another's contacts (through the intermediary of the one the contact actually knows, of course), and other collective actions. In essence, this is the same as loaning someone your status, except that more than one person is pooling their influences. As with loaning statuses, this is typically for a single specific use or action. As an example, a group of Zarrian Ogres are starting a grass roots effort to bring a branch of the Sundered Guild down to Ebonstone. These Ogres are members of different tribes, and none are yet guild members—there is as yet no leader among them, nor is there properly a group identity that can collect its own statuses, so the typical group statuses and loaned statuses don't really apply, but they can still work together. Each contributes whatever status would help the cause. The more eloquent members (with a species average Personality rating of only five, that's not saying much), go to the local officials whose good graces are needed, while others travel to the Sundered Guild's main guildhall; each using their own talents and social skills augmented by the pooled statuses. Others communicate with their contacts, introducing them to those who could best benefit by the contacts' knowledge & influence. None of these collective resources can be used after the task of bringing the Sundered Guild is accomplished, nor can they be used for other purposes. As you can see, pooling resources in this manner is almost always a very involved endeavour.
Another function of status as it applies to groups is specific statuses that apply only to that group. A status (or title) may be highly important within a particular organisation, but have no credit at all outside of it. While the Bonded status and Fought status are absolutely essential to those in the Brotherhood of the Pact, those outside the group won't have any idea what those mean—nor can you tell them without violating their first and second rules… It is unlikely that these group-specific statuses will be learned with a successful reputation check, unless one wants to give subtle hints as to membership in a group. In other words, you can have group-specific statuses.
Families are also groups. They tend to have rather stringent membership requirements of birth, adoption or marriage, but may still utilise the above guidelines. In general, only the most notable families will have status and reputation that differs from its component kinsfolk. Greater nobles likely will, but most lesser noble or upper class families will not. Using the reputation and statuses of one's family is typically only possible in situations where there is a definite head of household, such as a Heldanic drighten, titled greater noble in Formour, Elven princess or prince, or those Bizzannite societies where patriarchal extended families are the norm. As notable families will number from the hundreds to tens-of-thousands, only the most famous (or more likely, infamous) people will be able to influence the reputation or status of their kin. Relatives of a famous person—even if that celebrity also has other famous relatives and their family name is well known—aren't any better off merely by association. In other words, while you may indeed be a long-lost Krieg brother, that won't even get you a free drink, much less add reputation points.
There exists a bit of a double standard in role-playing games. Unlike casting a spell or swinging an axe, social skills are generally played out in real-life. That is, your character may be able to sell sunlight to the blind, but if you—the player—aren't good at talking (stutter, bashful, language barrier, tactless/blunt, strong accent, socially inept), then you may not know the exact words to have your character speak. The opposite situation may hold true as well, when the erudite player wants to use his natural persuasive ability for his ugly, slow-witted, thuggish brute character. In these situations, the mechanics of the skill roll may be used. For example, the guy who inadvertently often says the wrong things can still play a suave Bizzannite. By no means should role-playing be eliminated, rather the mechanics can be used to augment role-playing for social situations, just as well as with other skills. A combination approach may be used as well. That is, how the in-character discussion goes, can modify the skill or attribute check. Likewise, the skill/attribute check can be made before the player character and Game Master (playing the role of the other character) begins; the results modifying the conversation, instead.
This can be done in a number of different ways. A social encounter can be entirely mechanical, entirely role-played, rolled beforehand with the result affecting the conversation, or rolled afterwards with the conversation affecting the die roll. Here are some examples:
- Player: "I want to know if the Darklings are behind this; I'm going to the wharf for information."
- Game Master: "Okay, roll Streetwise."
- Player rolls a total 18.
- Game Master: "Yes, you find out that there's a Phantom-Agent involved."
- Player: "Okay punk, I want to know who put you up to this."
- GM (as Goth teen non-player character): "Nobody, I swear it."
- Player: "It's bad enough that I know you're lying, but it's something else when he knows you're lying." (Points to the Gaijin—who doesn't speak Bizzannite—and thus doesn't actually have a clue what they are saying.)
- GM "Okay okay, I'll talk. It was Threnody; they say she has the whole district under her control."
Rolled before talking
- Player: "I have a total of 17 on my Distinguished Expertise check. She should be fooled into thinking I'm a Phantom."
- Game Master: "After fielding a few of Threnody's trick questions, she continues to eye you warily and says, 'I thought I knew all of the Darklings in my city, but I believe you're on the level; what was it you wanted to know about Duke Ryan?'"
Rolled after talking
- Player: "… so if not for me, then do it for little Suzy."
- Game Master: "Damn Karl, that was a good speech. I'm going to give you a +4 on your Administration check to see if the majordomo gives you an audience with the Duke."
Combinations of these are possible. For example, an encounter may be entirely role-playing, until the Game Master interrupts with:
"Are you sure you want to refer to the Duchess as 'sweetcakes'?"
Player: "Yeah, you're right, Corwin's way too smooth for that. Let me rephrase."
Game Master: "Only if you roll a successful Diplomacy check."
Player: "Can't I just use a Grace retest instead?"
Lack of familiarity with a culture (or subculture) imposes a -3 familiarity penalty. Similarly, attempting to use a social skill that one does not possess is at least a -5 penalty, if the attempt can even be made. All is not bad news however, as you can increase your odds with descriptive bonuses. Even a minor attempt at graphic-style play earns a +1 bonus, as in "I'll try to play on her heart-strings." This can be doubled for a much greater description. Incorporating the prior actions of others merits an additional +1: "now that he sat down, I'll pace slowly so that his eyes following me will wear him down." A fourth point can be gained by utilising the environment: "I move between him and the window—to darken the room and add to the feeling of being trapped—this should make me me more intimidating." A fifth and final point is to be had if you have an advantageous position. This can be from greater height (why sovereigns sit on a dais and high throne), from having defeated a surrendering opponent in battle, or from a superior moral or social position. An astute player might notice that the game mechanics detailed in this paragraph are quite similar to those used in combat—exactly the same, in fact. Such a player would be well informed to keep such observations to him- or herself, lest the secret get out about just how simple it is to play this game, and how easily one may interweave the complex social interactions of the game world.
The +3 assistance bonus (i.e. 'flanking') may be applied to social skills as well as martial. This may be either two or more people ganging up on one target, or someone acting as an aide to another. For example, an archduke may have a counsellor who can fill in a forgotten word or offer a better phrasing while addressing the court, good for a +3 bonus to the archduke's skill check. In another example, in the "good cop/bad cop" type of interrogation either method might be successful, but each questioner gains the +3 bonus to the roll to uncover the desired information.
Social skills are like any other skills in that if you don't keep up using them, your skill will decrease. There is, however, a limit to this decrease, as in "you never forget how to ride a horse." You will need to keep up practice from a technique viewpoint, as well as an interaction viewpoint. In other words, if you spend months or years without speaking to another person, while you may not forget your vocabulary, your speech patterns and topics may seem quite odd to the listener. To put it another way, someone who only talks to their friends when they need the occasional favour is less likely to continue to receive those boons. Similarly, someone who asks for assistance too often may find himself needing both help for the original problem, as well as a relationship in need of patching. Therein lies how social skills are unlike any other skills: they always involve another person's views and feelings. While the game mechanic for decreasing social skills from disuse is the same as for any other skill, social skills may also be decreased by abuse. For example, someone who is constantly trying to sweet-talk every merchant on the street into a better deal may find himself with a reputation for being cheap—future attempts at gaining a discount will now prove harder. Another, perhaps more common, example is the 'hero' who attempts to intimidate everyone he meets; after a while, it gets old—people just get used to his constant glaring. Yes, that last example was about you. Also remember that social skills may decrease in effectiveness temporarily from abuse as well. The -2 penalty for repeated attempts can well apply if you are trying to hit all of your friends up for a loan.
Another use or lose mechanic, or should we say lose-to-use, is the character's status. While social skills reflect how effective you are at getting people to think, feel, or act a certain way, status measures how people feel about you. With the Game Master's blessing, a status can be 'burned' to achieve a desired result. There is no skill roll; success is automatic. For example, someone known to be Trustworthy is trying to convince someone to do something; they lack the social graces to convince them on their own, and are banking on their status as being trustworthy in order to gain assistance. They can risk 'burning' that status to achieve what they could never do with a social skill roll. If the assistance sought results in an increase of trust, the status may be retained—however in the far more likely outcome that the trust will be strained or even broken, the Trustworthy status is lost.
A less-risky method—for your character-sheet at least—but less effective, is the use of a status to enhance a social skill roll or attribute check. The Game Master may allow the reputation of your character (terms not meant in the metagame sense) to affect how well you can get your point across, convince someone of a course of action, find out needed information, et cetera. That is, someone known to be an honest and forthright person may find it easier to get someone to trust him, but his brother—known well as a violent sociopath—can quite easily get his point across by the unspoken threat of physical violence. Some of the sample statuses listed above include more specific ways for them to work with social skills. Add the total number of statuses used to the skill roll. Only statuses that logically apply to the situation can be used.
One final note about social skills, is that there are times when they may not be needed. Just as a character does not need the walking skill to walk, you do not need the intimidate skill to try and scare someone (just being a pissed-off twelve-foot tall Troll with a bloody axe is sufficient). In times like these, the Game Master may ask for a non-skilled attempt (-5 on the skill check), or may instead ask for an attribute check or challenge, as appropriate (Appearance, Personality, Appearance, Strength, Appearance…).
Opposing Social Skills
Social skills can be counterable. This can be either with an opposed skill check (possibly unskilled at -5) or with an attribute challenge or a save of some kind. This opposition can be done using the same skill or a counter-skill (e.g. Detect Lies and Bullshit). Not every skill check needs to be automatically countered, such as with diplomacy or seduction—it can be challenged, but doesn't have to be.
Arguments, interrogations, negotiations, and similar social interactions have two or more parties wishing to get their way. Cooperation, concessions, compromise, and mutual accord may be a conflict of interests for one or more of these parties. These can be handled via a rather combative method. An intense argument can become much like any other battle, albeit less bloody even if no less painful. Initiative is determined—who formulates a point first—except that a high Agility or martial arts knowledge isn't really useful here. Think of a counter-argument as something like a social parry. Someone brings up a point and the other tries to knock it down. A skill check is made, and the opposing side 'parries' that discussion point. They use a counter skill, an un-skilled check (-5 penalty), or similar means to figuratively deflect the blow. Success on the skill check, but failure on the parry, concedes a point in the discussion: you lose ground in the argument, the price increases or decreases unfavourably, an unwanted point is added to a treaty, et cetera. A round of social discussion takes longer, about 5 minutes, but can be far more or less.
The Game Master should be heavily involved in this. He or she determines if a particular point is valid, insufficient, or if someone has gone on long enough and the other person should get a turn to speak. That is, this isn't parliamentary procedures, but game mechanics representing heated discussions. You don't get 'the floor' to make all of your points at once, but must argue them a little at a time. Bear in mind that this is still just a game; don't get mad at your friends whether or not you are all playing in character.
This opposed discussion method works best if a rough outline is created first. This will help guide the discussion, and provide specific points to debate. The discussion may progress far beyond this (the best arguments usually do), but the outline will at least get you started. For example, when interrogating a prisoner, the Game Master and players outline how the
torture uh, gentle prodding is going to go. The players want to know who sent him, why, and what all he found out. The prisoner isn't willing to give up more than his name & rank, and initially doesn't even want to reveal that. This information is noted, starting with the name & rank, then the whys & wherefores, and finally the details of the mission are noted—even though those details themselves are still unknown. With each success by the guild, a bit more information is uncovered. Eventually they will even beat details of the prisoner's personal life out of him. Note that the Game Master can secretly compile a counter outline of her own. That is, if the prisoner/spy is really good, he can find out additional information about the guild, even while being interrogated.
Imagine a fight; two combatants jab at each other. Each throws blows, some avoided, some knock the other back a bit, some are just absorbed with little obvious effect. Certain skills are known: how to throw a knife-hand without jamming your fingers, or how to spin kick. Certain tactics are employed: go for the eyes, kick in the groin, punch them in the throat. Next imagine a married couple fighting—not the kind where appliances are thrown, or where one has to explain to co-workers the next day how he "just slipped"… a whole bunch of times*—but rather the kind of verbal fight over bills or infidelity. Each throws verbal jabs, some replied to, some points conceded, some just ignored. Certain skills are known: how to cry on command, how to lower one's voice so that the other has to listen harder rather than just shouting back. Certain tactics are employed: bring up his old girlfriend, comment on her weight gain, complain about bad breath or body odour. Now imagine a sales meeting, each attacks with price, value, perception; some offer points accepted, some ignored, some responded to with a counter. Certain skills are known: appeals to vanity, comparisons with similar products/services, statements of distrust or geared to gain trust. Certain tactics are employed: offer an absurdly lower counter price to the prospective seller, offer additional perks to highlight or distract from product features. Also in both martial combat and social dealings, there is a strong degree of randomness—one never knows if an opponent will fall for a side feint, or if an 'honest Joe' tactic will work. Both also feature skillsets that can be combined ('stacked' in Midian terms) for greater effects and tactical options. Neither combat nor social interactions have outcomes that are binary, despite the obvious polar results. That is, there are far more possible end results than beating up your opponent, winning the argument, making the sale, or scoring with the drunk blonde. You can defeat a foe without him landing a single blow, or you can both end up in hospital. You can either take a buyer for everything he's worth, or barely break even. You can win the blonde over with only your pickup line, or you may spend weeks courting her. No one ever really wins arguments in a marriage, however.
- I married a redhead; I know that spousal abuse can be committed against men, as well.
When you haven't done something screwed up for a while, asked for favours, bullied your way through a discussion, made others jealous of a promotion, or generally made an ass of yourself recently, you can spend the social capital you have earned. 'Recently' in this case is a very subjective term. Spending social capital can be treated as a form of emergency Grace retest. Should the initial social skill check fail, one can then use the banked good will to sway others. Time spent earning social capital—e.g. doing favours for others, not interrupting, allowing others to have their way—can give a bonus to the retest, as can each time you capitulate in an argument or decision (note: not when you lose, but when you voluntarily give in to the other point of view). It is worth mentioning that the time frames involved in spending social capital are rather vague, and people typically remember negative behaviour from you (such as winning an argument) for a long time and often have a "what have you done for me lately" mindset for the positive things you have done for them. This can work in reverse as well. Someone who has asked for too much or too often, has been out of sight except when asking for assistance, pushes the social envelope too far, or bullies others and acts like a total jerk except when they want something, may have overspent their social capital. This could merit a forced retest on a social skill check. Again, this is very subjective and open to interpretation. The Game Master must decide if either side of this coin applies to a given situation.
Let's face it, your character will have an accent. Everyone does. This is not to say that you, as a player, must speak with a ridiculous fake accent, but rather the character will have elements to his or her speech that place him or her into a particular geographical point of origin, and possibly socioeconomic background as well. An accent is not generally noticeable for those from your same area, unless they are widely travelled or deal regularly with people from different lands. Accents will differ based on location and language. That is, someone from the Draeken province in northern Formour will have a different accent from someone from Stormundia in southern Formour, or you can be said to have an Anglan accent when speaking Bizzannite. If you have a journeyman level in a language skill, then you have a thick accent while speaking it. If you only have apprentice level skill in that language, then you butcher the pronunciation of those few words you know. In either case, your accent will betray your land of origin. Even those with master level of skill in a language will still retain a slight accent. However, for those that are fully proficient (master level in that language), it may be possible to hide your accent. Using the skills of Acting or Singing (but only while singing a song) at journeyman level or higher can be used to cover one's accent with another. At least this is true for those not actually from the area you are imitating. A master actor or singer can completely disguise their natural accent. Similarly, someone using the skills of journeyman Public Speaking or Distinguished Expertise V can also hide their accent with a generic one for that language, but these skills do not allow someone to imitate another accent. Storytelling can be used to imitate accents, but will not fool anybody. And of course, the Vocal Impressions skill can be used to cover or fake an accent—automatic to cover regional variance, or a skill check at 10 or higher to convincingly imitate an accent enough to fool a native speaker from that area. Some skills, such as Intimidation, Seduction, or Streetwise, may work even better without disguising one's accent. That is, a burly Dwarf might sound even scarier by using his natural Heldanic drawl to intimidate someone, or a suave eastern Formourian nobleman on holiday may more easily seduce a young peasant girl in the west with his rounded vowels and verbose sentences rather than try and imitate the western laconic style. The optional notation system for adding a plus or minus sign to a skill (found in the Skills chapter) can be used to show one's degree of accent. In fact, accents—and language skills in general—were the reason for this option.
Children have especially noticeable and thick accents. Third-culture kids—those of us who grew up in nations not native to either parent—especially often have thicker versions of the accent of a parent, when speaking that parent's native tongue, when surrounded by a culture that uses a different language. A child who grows up multilingual will speak the local language with the local accent, if it is different than what is spoken at home. As an example, a Trollish child whose parents' native languages are Gobbley and Anglan, but who lives in the Byzant Empire, will speak Anglan (Mom's native, and the language spoken in the house) with a thick Heldanic accent (worse than Mom's, oddly), but speaks Bizzannite like his Ithian peers, with only a hint of an Ithian accent noticeable when travelling other parts of Suditerre.
Another odd thing about accents is that it is harder to overcome one when learning a language close to your native one. The more alien a language is, the less likely you will have a noticeable accent when speaking it. Or more accurately, you will pick up the accent of your teacher. For example, a Hobgoblin of the Chatomel tribe from the Farreaches is learning Orcken. As Gobbley and Orcken are very similar languages, it will be hard for the Hobgoblin to overcome his native accent while travelling in the Orckish Lowlands. His accent will be very strong. However, should that Hobgoblin instead learn Killian—a language absolutely unlike Gobbley—it will be easier for him to sound like his Killian teacher and less like an unwashed steppe tribesman.
Not only are the ways one speaks a word indicative of origin, but the choice of words themselves can likewise show where someone is from and what their background is. Regional dialects affect word choice, especially for common phrases. Eastern Formourians may exclaim, "By the Light!" whenever encountering something shocking, especially shocking in a bad way. In the Surtur Falls area of southeastern Formour on the other hand, the same situation would evoke a quiet, "Oh my Light." Though their Heldanic neighbours to the north share a common language, they would never use the aforementioned exclamations—even if a Lightwalker—and would think the latter sounds funny. Spelling preferences and other grammatical functions also mark one's upbringing. To continue the previous comparison, literate Heldans (and rest assured there are a few) write in a very colloquial style. Words are spelled just as they are pronounced (perhaps this is a result of influence by runic writing), and grammar is descriptive—following patterns of speech in use. To do otherwise is absurd. They may mock the writings of their neighbours to the south by pronouncing the words as written, such as 'through' as "thr-oww-uh-guh-huh" (Heldans typically spell it 'thru'). By contrast, educated Formourian aristocrats are very particular about their word choices, and much of their scholastic efforts involve proper grammar and spelling. Grammar there is proscriptive—there is an accepted 'right' way to speak and write Anglan, and following these guidelines ensures proper communication. They consider improper speech and writing, especially the latter as there is no excuse since one has time for precision in writing, to be hallmarks of the great unwashed. They mock the Heldanic written form as being uncouth, uneducated, illiterate, and indicative of a weak mind, just as mercilessly as the Heldans mock the Formourians for their more formal writing style.
Nobility and Titles
There are two ways to earn a noble rank in most countries: birth or meritorious earning. Each noble rank has certain prerequisite statuses that someone not born to the position must possess in order to achieve that title as well as having bonus statuses that you gain for having this rank. There are usually additional requirements for achieving nobility; it is never automatic simply for having the required status. If you are born into a title then the prerequisite statuses are added as additional bonus status. Some titles (such as knight) you cannot be born into and must earn. The Kingdom of Formour and the Byzant Empire in particular are both expanding their controlled lands and thus their nobility, and as such there exists greater possibility of increasing one's station in life there than in a more rigid caste society.
Each nation determines its own means of feudal succession, if any. The Kingdom of Formour allows one to progress through the ranks of nobility by attaining the prerequisite statuses. Gaining the new rank is not automatic however, and must be granted by a nobleman two degrees higher in the peerage than the rank desired. For example, a Knight who wishes to increase his position, gain warriors under him, expand his lands, and secure a position for his children desires to become a Baronet. Once he has the required statuses (Acknowledged he already had, and Knighted he gained upon becoming a Knight) then he may petition the local Viscount to ennoble him. He cannot ask the Baron to whom he would still have to answer—and who dubbed him a Knight—as the Baron is not ranked high enough to accomplish this task. In other words, you cannot promote anyone to the level directly below you, instead you have to get your boss to do it.
The exact structure of a country's nobility will vary from location to location, but the rough composite feudal order follows:
- High King/High Queen
- Prince/Princess (Royal)
- Prince/Princess (of a city)
The social order will be included in each countries description and usually doesn't include all of the titles listed. The Kingdom of Formour has its order of feodality (with required and bonus statuses) as:
King / Queen
- Required: Acknowledged, Courtly, Dominant, Esteemed, Feared, Greater Nobility, Influential, Known, Landed, Leader, Noble, Regal, Respected;
- Bonus: Elite, Famous, Cherished, Genuine, Known, Respected, Styled (Your Majesty), Titled, Unique, Well-Known
Prince / Princess (Royal)
- Required: none
- Bonus: Acknowledged, Cherished, Famous, Greater Nobility, Known, Styled (Your Highness), Titled
Archduke / Archduchess
- Required: Acknowledged, Courtly, Dominant, Esteemed, Greater Nobility, Influential, Landed, Leader, Noble, Wealthy
- Bonus: Elite, Famous, Known, Respected, Styled (Your Grace), Titled, Well Known
Duke / Duchess
- Required: Acknowledged, Courtly, Dominant, Influential, Landed, Leader, Noble
- Bonus: Greater Nobility, Known, Styled (Your Grace), Titled, Wealthy
Marquis / Marchioness
- Required: Acknowledged, Courtly, Influential, Landed, Noble
- Bonus: Titled, Wealthy
Count / Countess / Earl:
- Required: Acknowledged, Courtly, Landed, Noble, Influential
- Bonus: Titled, Styled (Earl)
Viscount / Viscountess:
- Required: Acknowledged, Courtly, Landed, Noble
- Bonus: Influential, Titled
Baron / Baroness:
- Required: Acknowledged, Courtly, Noble, Landed
- Bonus: Named (von) Titled,
- Required: Acknowledged, Knighted
- Bonus: Noble, Styled (Lord/Lady)
- Required: Acknowledged, Esteemed
- Bonus: Knighted, Styled (Sir/Lady)
- Required: none
- Bonus: Acknowledged
Storytelling: don't just mention it, say it
The Game Master's job is not to tell a story. It is the players who are both actors and writers. The Game Master's job instead is to set the scene, coordinate events, and script the bit parts. It is in the interaction of scene, players, and non-player characters that the story unfolds. Rather than focus upon drafting a stirring speech by a non-player character, the Game Master should instead focus on that person's motivations, goals, methods, and desires. Have those the troupe encounters react to the words and deeds of the player-characters. Have them respond to specific actions and words, as well as the total. Game Masters, if the players do not respond to this, then they may lose out to non-player rivals who do. For example, the local Marquis is asking for their help to find his missing son—and the players' response is "enough with the flavour text, let's go find the boy." If they miss vital information that the Marquis was trying to tell them, then have a rival guild find the child easily: "once the Marquis suggested we ask his schoolmates, the rest was easy." Remember that these rivals don't live in a vacuum, and may be out investigating and rescuing the youth while your troupe is still arguing over what pizza toppings to get.
Ofttimes quality communication is not about what you do, but rather what you do not do. That is, stop and listen sometime. This is a valuable tactic for both players and Game Masters to utilise. Not only are you more likely to notice important information by actually paying attention, but the game is more enjoyable for all if you react to what is said—instead of wanting the talking to be over quickly so that you can go about killing someone.
What a player or Game Master thinks about a character or a situation can be revealed through the voice of a character. Instead of the Game Master simply saying "the barmaid fancies you," instead have her say, "Hiya cutie, I hope you'll stick around a while to see The Conjuring Minstrel perform tonight, and maybe stay a bit afterwards," with a wink. (Have you ever noticed that examples of better roleplaying like these tend to be kind of wordy? Yeah, me too. Sorry about that.) If player really enjoys the Game Master's vivid descriptions of a panoramic view of the countryside, rather than say "Cool visuals, mate," instead try saying in-character, "What a grand sight this is—let us make camp here tonight so that we may wake to this view" or "I do love the Formourian forests in spring." Ok, it doesn't have to be that cheesy, but you get the idea. Instead of merely describing yet another gruff Dwarven bartender, have him speak in a brusque manner, using short, curt sentences. A character known undeservedly for his black-hearted and vile deeds—or instead is a villain who possesses a high Appearance—may be met with "So you're Terrence the Terrible… you're not as bad as they say."
|☥“||That's the ultimate power—your vocabulary. How you communicate. Study vocabulary. The more words you have, the better you can communicate, and the quicker you can put someone away. Because if you hit someone in the face, that maybe hurts then and there. But to put someone away with dialogue—it's painful for a long time. People think about it at night, when they go home, and they say, "Oh, my god, what this guy said…"||”☥|
——Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger