How to Run, by Alexis D. Smolensk.
Buy it. Read it. Love or hate it, but please let us know why.
By Alexis Smolensk.
I will buy this book (when it comes out). Seriously, there is nothing like it in the gaming market. If there is, please let me know.
It seems that my ability to reach the outside world has been impaired. For at least the next week I will be unable to post. This is an ongoing issue that, try as I might, I cannot resolve. My apologies to my followers; I will be back with many opinions on many subjects, but I’m afraid you’re going to have to wait a little longer…
[Edit] After I posted this I found my notes on alignment and realized I had made a mistake. I have alignment broken into three components(following the Rule of Three): ethics, beliefs and virtues/nature. The following information isn’t inaccurate, it’s just not up to par with this framwork.[/Edit]
In my last post I introduced the concept of Arete. It is self-knowledge, virtue and potential. It is possessed by all planewalkers and determines their limits (or lack thereof) in my Planescape game. Today I’m going to address alignment in a way, I hope, that will provide a solid foundation for a system of rules and rewards.
I want to begin by defining alignment. While I’ve written about this before, I recently came across a slightly different take. The original concept of alignment in D&D was focused on chaos and law; it grew from the factions of Chainmail. So alignment had nothing to do with philosophical ideas of morality or ethics. It was all about which side of the war you supported.
Coupled with definitions of the base word “align,” I believe the following is a good place to lay the foundation:
A planewalker’s alignment is a summary of her relationship to the rest of the ‘verse. It describes the values she holds most important. It explains her beliefs in simple terms. In short, my goal is to make alignment a framework which the player can use to guide her character’s actions.
To that end, I’ve decided on three aspects to alignment: ethics, religion and faction.
Ethics covers the old alignment of D&D. It is the moral and ethical outlook of a character. It’s largely general in order to allow room for interpretation. Religion applies to planewalkers who have formalized belief systems that require the presence of a central god (or pantheon). Religions seek to answer specific questions about mortal life and afterlife, and how one should live that life. They are structured around routine rituals and observances. Factions are organizations built on planar philosophies. They can be either personal or social in application. Factions address the broader question of, “Why?” in regard to existence.
These explanations are a bit rough. They’ve been flying around my head for several months now and I’ve only recently been able to narrow them down. The purpose behind this is a system that I can express in terms of dice, ranks, abilities, etc. — so that the players have the tools they need to create compelling, awesome characters. Each of these alignment components plays out in slightly different ways. I’ve only solidified a few examples, though, but some of the ideas include:
If these seem familiar, it’s probably because they exist in some form or another in previous editions. The original setting forced modifiers on magic. 3E imposed modifiers on social skill checks (mostly Charisma-based). I don’t really know what happens in 4E, since the composition of the planes changed so much. In the end, though, I’m going to try and settle for a few rules that explain how a character’s beliefs impact her actions in the Planescape setting.
Before I finish, I want to touch on these aspects of alignment with a few lists. These are my ideas for each component. They work like this: when a player makes a character, she has to choose at least one component for her alignment. She can take anything from ethics, religion or faction. If she wants to create a new component, that works; so long as the player and GM are on the same page, it’s all good. These alignment components or traits define, in part, the character’s personality. They are the character’s belief system. So a planewalker may claim to be “good;” and will note it on her character sheet; and she’ll recover Willpower when her beliefs are tested and she follows through on them; but they aren’t a straitjacket. She can decide to not be good and (at least for the time being) the only repercussion is that she won’t regain Willpower (beyond the usual method, whatever it ends up being).
So, the lists…
Actually, I’m just going with ethics right now. The others are still in the works, and I’m still working out how to apply the planes to the whole system.
Arete ( /ˈærətiː/; Ancient Greek: ἀρετή), in its basic sense, means excellence of any kind. In its earliest appearance in Greek, this notion of excellence was ultimately bound up with the notion of the fulfillment of purpose or function: the act of living up to one’s full potential.
Sometimes translated as “virtue,” the word actually means something closer to “being the best you can be,” or “reaching your highest human potential.”
While browsing Planewalker.com, I came across these documents – a conversion guide for Mage: the Ascension. They were a perfect find because I’ve been working on a storytelling system approach to my Planescape game. I’m drawn to its simplicity. Attribute + Skill = Ability. Roll the total number of dice and check for successes. Get enough successes, and you accomplish your task. And like any good roleplaying system, there’s enough room for additional complexity or customization, as evidenced by the plethora of games produced by White Wolf Publishing (the creators of the system).
So I downloaded the Mage conversion documents and looked through them. I have to say that, while the author did a good job of adapting the old Mage game to Planescape, the end result falls short of my expectations. I’m not saying it’s a bad product; I’m just saying that I wouldn’t use it. But it helped me to realize what I want — no, what I need in my version of the setting.
Most White Wolf games have stats or attributes that are unique to that particular version of the system. One in particular seems to define characters from that game in a way that makes them unique – Scion has Legend; Mage has Gnosis; Exalted has Essence. They are almost like class and level rolled into one, but with fewer restrictions. Man, that’s a terrible description. Think of it this way: Gnosis determines how much mana a mage can spend in a turn, or how many ranks she can have in her Arcana skills; Legend and Essence provide similar limits. These are attributes that are tied to the basic concept of these characters. Magi have Gnosis, which is basically secret knowledge of the inner workings of the universe. Scions have Legend, which is divine influence at work in their bodies and minds. Exalted have Essence, sort of similar to the soul. Without these, the characters cannot exist. At the same time, they aren’t really limiting. They let the character “break” the standard limits in the game. So as a mage advances her Gnosis, her potential increases and she can acquire more ranks in Arcana, for example, or she can spend more mana each turn and thus use more powerful magic.
This is where I’m going: I want my Planescape game to be based on the storyteller system, and I need an attribute that applies to all planewalkers, that defines their existence and that lets them be more powerful than your normal planar (but not as powerful as a proxy; at least, not until they hit the higher “levels”). That’s where the Mage conversion guide (link above) comes in: Mr. O’Rance uses the term “arete” to describe something very similar to Gnosis. Now, I’m not going to design my game around Mage: the Ascension. I think that’s too limiting because I like the idea of warriors, rogues and priests (after all, Planescape was an AD&D game to begin with). So I started thinking about what arete means. Then I remembered my philosophy classes, and since Planescape is all about philosophy, I figured the term would fit perfectly.
Arete: Virtue. Excellence. Reaching your highest potential. Self-knowledge (thanks TriskalJM).
Arete represents how well a planewalker knows herself. It’s how in-tune she is with her own existence. This self-knowledge enables her to grow beyond normal boundaries. With a high Arete, she can advance her attributes and skills to six or more ranks (the normal limit is five). Arete determines how much mana a planewalker can spend each turn (to power special abilities or spells/prayers/talents). I intend to find a link between Arete and Belief or Alignment (more on those in another post). Arete is the trait that defines planewalkers.
So at this point I’m starting to see another project: a .pdf of Planescape: Storytelling System, or something like that. It’s a shame I can’t find someone to pay me for this…