Thursday, January 24, 2013

Game Idea: Black/White

As part of this year's Creative Pay It Forward, I promised my friend Lynn a table top role-playing game based on the anime series, Bleach.  This is her request.

Occasionally some people, upon dying, do not move on to the great life beyond.  They harbor pain and regrets so great, their spirits become violent and twisted with power.  They become threats whose very presence stains the world and  imbalances the spiritual resonance of the world itself.  Thankfully, there exists an organization known as The Society.

The Society deals with such threats by finding and training people to become Soul Agents.  People in the world who have ties to the spirit planes and accept a duty to govern the flow of souls from the lands of the living and the afterlife.  Dressed in all black, and armed with Spiritual Origami, Soul Agents are able to infuse their paper constructs with their own spiritual energy and with their own names, transforming them into deadly unique weapons (though most manifest as swords) that are practically intelligent entities in their own right.

But the Society is not the only organization that monitors the traffic of souls.  Three other groups vie for power and control (if not revenge):  The Reconquista, that seek to regain control (claiming to have once been in charge of things before the Society took over), The Psychopomps, deceased beings that still seek to retain their presence in the world.  And seek to swell their numbers by enlisting more of the recently dead.  And lastly, the Geistesser who have discovered greater power can be found by devouring spirits.

Where will you stand in the spiritual war that rages in secret?  Will you wear the Black?  Or the White?

Character Creation:
While there can be characters of different types in the game, the Society is known to focus only on individuals whom are particularly touched by death in their life.  It is not uncommon for young students to be inducted into the Society, although typically the group avoids the youth unless circumstances allow them to be swayed into being completely under the Society's watchful eye (i.e.  orphans, runaways, etc)

Characters should have a Name, their Age listed, Gender, and by default are members of The Society.  Players can opt to be members of a different Organization with GM approval.

All characters have the following Qualities:  Offensive, Defensive, Enduring, Constructive, Perceptive, Seductive and Consuming.  Offensive relates to any actions taken intended to hurt another, whether it be through weapons or words.  Defensive relates to any actions to protect oneself or another.  Enduring relates more to any challenges necessary AFTER defense is overwhelmed (such as poison, torture and the like).   Constructive relates to actions that intend to create or build something, including friendships.  Perceptive relates to any of the five senses when appropriate.  Seductive differs from Constructive as it relates to a specific area of social activity, as well as social activity that may be manipulative in nature.  Finally, Consuming is a trait that relates ONLY to approaching spiritual growth the way the Geistesser do.

Players allocate fourteen points between the seven Qualities, with no Quality having a rating higher than 3.  The lowest rating a Quality may have is zero.

Characters have a rating called Spiritual Energy, and this is a meter from White (4) to Black (4) with the middle slot being White and Black at (2).  This represents the sway of the character's Spiritual Energy.  As you probably noticed, the way the meter works is it shows whether you have more leanings towards White or Black, depending on your Spiritual Energy points.

Characters also have the three areas of skills:
Primary Skills represents their main interest and concept.  For a student, this may be a field of interest such as "Modern Art".  For a policeman, for example, it could be "Police Training."
Secondary Skills represent their other interests which more or less were given attention and time.  A student might have "Sports" for example or "Puzzle Video Games" as a Secondary Skill.  While the policeman above might have "Romantic Comedy Movies."
The last area is the Void Skill.  This represents an area which the character is absolutely pathetic and embarrassing at.    Any challenges that use this Skill automatically fail, unless the player opts to risk shifting Spiritual Energy.  By spending a point of Spiritual Energy, the character can automatically succeed in attempts that are under this area.

The game uses six-sided dice to resolve all Challenges in a game.  A Challenge is when a character attempts to do an important action which has a chance of failing at a dramatically appropriate moment in the story.  So sitting up on the bed after waking is not a Challenge.  However, sitting up after waking while a poisonous spider slowly descends towards you would be.

Every turn, characters are allowed to declare two actions: One offensive and One defensive action.  If any of those actions are a Challenge, then dice are rolled for each appropriate Challenge.  Choosing to go full offensive or full defensive can provide bonuses, at the cost of the other action.

Gathering Dice:
The player gathers one six-sided die for every point of a Quality that is applicable in the roll.    If the said action falls under a Primary Skill, the player gains three extra dice.  If it is under a Secondary skill, the player gains two extra dice.  You will always get the bigger of the two bonuses if the action happens to relate to both Skill types.   If the action does not fall under ANY of the three skills, you get one bonus die.  Void Skills cannot offer dice, thus not allowing any rolls, even with only your Quality.  To attempt any action that requires a Void Skill, you must spend a point of Spiritual Energy.  (see below, Spiritual Energy)

Equipment and other things can add bonuses to your roll in the form of Adders.  A good weapon, for example, might offer a +2.  Spiritual Origami, the key weapon of all Soul Agents, provides different bonuses depending on how they are used (explained better in the section, Spiritual Origami).  Only one Adder may be added to a dice pool in a given Challenge.  If more than one seem applicable, choose only the highest one.

Going Full Defensive or Full Offensive gives you a +2 to your roll.  This is a separate bonus from Adders.

The player rolls dice and if the total of the dice rolled are above 10, the action is a success.  For every +5 above 10 that the player rolls, he can add descriptors to how his action succeeded.
Lynn is playing Kuro, who is a teenage student with 2 in all qualities (she balanced it out, to make sure she always has dice)  Her Skills are Primary (Occult Lore), Secondary (Vampire Stories) and Void (Driving).  She is trapped by two members of the Reconquista in a dark alley.  She tries to run away from them by leaping for the fire escape, so her action is Defensive.  She has two dice to roll, but since her action does not relate to any skill, this goes up to three.  She rolls 2, 5, 4 and that totals 11.  So Kuro grabs the fire escape and pulls himself up to get away from the two.
Characters have five levels of Health:  Healthy, Hurting, Wounded, Struggling and Vulnerable.  Successful Attack Challenges can cause another character to be Hurting, but further levels can only be reached if the Attack rolls successfully for additional descriptors.  Each level of Health past Healthy is a one die penalty to one's roll.  Once a character is down to Vulnerable, the next successful strike that damages her kills her.

Lynn pulls out her Soul Paper and unfurls it into a razor-sharp whip sword, which she swings at the Reconquista chasing after her.  She rolls a total of 18 with her many dice, which allows her to bring the Reconquista Agent from Healthy all the way to Wounded!  That enemy Agent will have two less dice in all Challenges from that point on.

Spiritual Energy:
Spiritual Energy can turn the tide of any Challenge in your favor, but at the cost of making yourself less Spiritually Balanced.  Each point of Spiritual Energy gives you two extra-six sided dice to roll, and you can spend up to four points in a single Challenge.

However, each time a White Spiritual Energy point is lost, you gain a Black Spiritual Energy point.  And this affects both your Spiritual Origami (see under Spiritual Origami), your character's Appearance (All Society Soul Agents are dressed in all White, but their clothes become darker and edgier as they accumulate Black Energy)  and finally, your membership in your Organization.  The Society is very strict about Soul Agents too often dipping into Black Energy and have been known to "deal with" habitual practitioners.

Black Spiritual can ALSO be used, and this is actually temptingly more powerful than White.  Each point of Black Energy Spent gives the player FOUR extra dice to roll.  However, when Black Energy is used, you do not immediately recover White Energy.  Instead, one of the five triangles under Spiritual Energy is filled up.  If ever all five triangles are filled up, the triangles are cleared out again the left most White Energy Slot is scratched out (meaning you can now always have a bit of Black Energy in you.)  Triangles cannot be emptied in any other way.

White Spiritual Energy can be recovered (so long as there still are slots) through meditation and helping spirits move on to the afterlife properly.  There are rumors that helping especially troubled souls, or notably powerful blessed spirits can cleanse one's triangles, but this has not been proven.

Spiritual Origami:
These are the most powerful weapons any Soul Agent can use.  Spiritual Origami allow a Soul Agent to channel their own Qualities into items and weapons of great power.  A Soul Agent known as Ruk once used her Spiritual Origami to fold and unfurl a Defensive Origami to protect a friend from a killing blow.  The resulting Origami was so powerful the man survived certain death and was touched enough by the experience to become a new Soul Agent.    All Spiritual Origami at the start look like normal typical paper, but once unfurled, look majestic and unique, as they are extensions of the Soul Agent's very Qualities.  

Soul Agents can unfurl Soul Paper into Spiritual Origami as an action in a turn.  This action should always be accompanied with a declaration of what the character is creating.  The declaration is purely thematic and should be appropriate to the character's personality.  An easy way to do this is to have one key word always present in the declaration.  (Example: "Shattering Blade"  "Shattering Fist"  "Shattering Barrier")

Soul Agents always have access to Soul Paper unless a) the GM requires it to be inaccessible for the story or b) the Soul Agent rolls nothing but ones in his roll while using Spiritual Origami.  Folding and unfurling Spiritual Origami does not require a Challenge, but achieving the desired result while using it does.    Challenges faced using Spiritual Origami can DOUBLE the Quality being used.   So Ruk, who had Defending at 3, for example, had a base dice pool of six dice to use when she defended her friend.    However, creative Soul Agents can choose instead to combine TWO different Qualities for a more versatile Spiritual Origami.  So a Soul Agent who folds Soul Paper to create a parachute to survive a fall off a 200-foot building might opt to have it also protect her from the enemies gunfire, giving it Defending and Enduring Qualities.   Another Agent, who furls the paper to be a distracting display of razor sharp blades might combine Seductive and Offensive in the attack.  Clearly Spiritual Origami can be very deadly.  And very powerful defensively.  Heck, it can be very strong in whatever the user is also good with.    Wise Agents never underestimate Spiritual Origami.

A character can use Spiritual Origami without any cost for a number of times equal to their White Spiritual Energy.  Beyond that number of times, characters will have to Risk imbalance to use Soul Paper.  Risking imbalance is done this way:  A player rolls dice equal to the number of existing White Energy (Usually this starts at four).  The Target Number is still ten to use it without cost.  If the roll, however, is less than ten, the Soul Paper can only be folded and unfurled by spending a White Energy point (this does NOT grant the extra bonus dice given when White Energy is spent.)

NOTE:  This does mean that Reconquista and Psychopomps tend to have trouble using Soul Paper as frequently, hence the Reconquista's reliance on numbers, and the Psychopomps' reliance on spirit allies.  Geistesser, on the other hand, have learned the powers of Consumption and focus on that instead.

Ultimate Origami:
If a Soul Agent focuses on using only a single Quality in his Spiritual Origami, there is always a chance of unleashing an Ultimate Origami.  This is when at least four of the dice rolled come out as the Number Four.  The resulting Ultimate Origami depends on the Quality being used.

Ultimate Strike
Regardless of the roll’s total, you bring down the opponent to Vulnerable.  You may spend one Black Energy to automatically kill the target.
Ultimate Block
Regardless of the roll’s total, you can ignore up to five levels of wounds, even if the opponent struck with an Ultimate Strike.
Ultimate Fortress
Regardless of the current state of your health, you end the turn and start the next one at full Health.
Ultimate Birth
All dice that come out FOUR is considered SIX for total computation in your Construction.
Ultimate Sense
All dice that come out FOUR is considered SIX for total computation in your Perception.
Ultimate Master
All dice that come out FOUR is considered SIX for total computation in your Manipulation.
Ultimate Feast
All dice that come out FOUR shows how many targets suffer damage from your attack.

Sample Character:
Ishi, 17 years old Male.  Soul Agent of The Society
3 Offensive     Primary Skill:  Kendo
3 Defensive    Secondary Skill:  Ghost Lore
1 Enduring      Void Skill:  Dating
3 Constructive
1 Perceptive    Spiritual Energy:  W (4) W (3/1B)  W (2/2) B  (W1/3)  B  (4) B
1 Seductive     Health:  Healthy
2 Consuming.

There are many forces that seek to undermine The Society and its attempts to maintain the world's spiritual balance.   Here are the most prevalent antagonists in a Black/White game.

The Reconquista
Hailing from Spain, these Soul Agents believe The Society are inept and incapable of handling the responsibility of guiding the flow of souls to the afterlife.  They were once the other half of The Society, and the two shared their spiritual balancing duties with each half handling them during their half of the year.  But after the former leader calling herself Monty Lynn destroyed thousands of spirits out of sheet spite, The Society deemed her and her supporters corrupt, and exiled them from their duty.  Now, many years later, the surviving fragments of that group have regrouped and called themselves the Reconquista.

Reconquista characters follow the same character creation system as Soul Agents in all aspects, save that they start dressed in all Black, cause they follow an inverse flow of energy compared to the Soul Agents (with their outfits and Spiritual Energy shifting to white as they use their own Spiritual Origami too.)

The Psychopomps
Some of the dead are not willing to move on, and with sufficient Will power, such spirits escape and find ways to fight for their freedom.  And these spirits have discovered the frightening truth:  The Spiritual Energy can be devoured for power.  And when they do so, they gain miraculous abilities!

Spirits have stats similar to characters, with only this key difference: they are already dead.  So Spirits do not have Health Levels.  Instead they have a stat called Corporeality, which has ten points at the start.  Each time they are damaged in combat, they lose Corporeality point for every health level they should lose.  They can instantly recover five Corporeality points by losing White Energy however.  Once they have zero Corporeality, or have been reduced to a point where they have more Black Energy than White, the Soul Agent can spend one White Energy to automatically Exorcise the Spirit and dissipate it away.

However, Psychopomps are a different case.  Psychopomps can devour the White Energy of others (how they do so, remains a mystery) but for having saturated themselves with White Energy, now have a Health level track that should be brought down to Vulnerable before their Corporeality is affected as normal.  While unable to use Spirit Origami, Psychopomps can manifest the following Powers (at the cost of White Energy).

The Spirit deals an extra Health level of damage.
Breath Weapon
The Spirit expels a ranged strike that uses Offensive+Consuming dice.
The Spirit doubles its Perceptive dice in tracking a target.
The Spirit becomes supernaturally entrancing, doubling its Seductive dice.
The Scent of Guilt
The Spirit senses the target’s greatest fears if it succeeds in a Perceptive+Seductive roll against the target’s Defensive+Enduring roll.
Ghostly Mobility
Whether by flying, floating, teleporting through darkness, the Spirit travels its Constructive rating in meters without effort.  I can increase this by a factor of 10 by spending more Energy.
Whispered Presence
The Spirit becomes invisible and silent, but can still be felt.  Perceiving the Spirit requires a Perceptive check against the Spirit’s Defensive+Enduring.
Devour White Energy
Can only be done outside combat.  Drains an amount of White Energy from any target that willingly allows it (supernaturally coerced is acceptable.)

The Geistesser

The Geistesser is a small faction whose members were both from the Reconquista and The Society, but have either abandoned or been dismissed by the groups due to their lack of discipline or disturbing obsession with power.  What unites these individuals is the realization that Soul Agents, just like Spirits, can devour White Energy for magnificent powers, though none would admit the cost of such growth is the retardation of their own sanity.

Geistesser are created just like Soul Agents.  But they too have access to the additional powers the Psychopomps do, but instead of White Energy, use Black Energy to power them.  However, unlike the Psychopomps, the Geistesser are alive, and therefore do not have Corporeality ratings.   What they can do, however, is suffer additional Health levels of damage past Healthy equal to their Black Energy ratings, which is usually at four or five.    Geistesser are very dangerous antagonists and are best used as major antagonists in a game.


There you go.  The first of my Creative-Pay-It-Forward games.
I do hope my friend Lynn likes this take to the Bleach franchise, given I've drawn some ideas from it, but tried to create a new world to explore.
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