Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Avatar World: Oaths and Honor

I got the Closure soundtrack in the latest Humble Bundle and it is a gem of music. It's also completely un-uploaded on Youtube. What the hell Youtubers?

Happy New Year! Back home in the States, starting my J-Term class today. J-Term is this thing my university does where, if you registered for either fall or spring quarter, you get J-Term free. It's a special term in which you take one full course and complete it within a single month as opposed to over the course of a full semester. Due to happenstance, I seem to be taking Military Ethics this month. Not thrilled about that, but whatever, it fills a credit. It looks like a lot of writing, so this might be a month with more Schoolwork posts than usual (and I actually have one from the end of last semester from the religion class to post still).

But Avatar World! I'm honing in on this being a complete draft. After this post, I'll have come up with all of the basic subsystems I intend to include. Today, we talk about Oaths and Honor.

Apocalypse World has this thing called Hx (or History), and it's a measure of how well you know someone, with the someone being any given other PC at the table. It helped guide the messy interpersonal relationships of the game. Monsterhearts had Strings, a versatile mechanic that employed a point economy. Strings represent some form of emotional or interpersonal leverage on the person you have them on. They make huge tangled beautiful webs of your interpersonal relationships. Dungeon World had Bonds, a statement in the past-tense that says something about the relationship between two characters. Bonds are the basis of a more cooperative playstyle than Hx because it establishes shared experiences rather than just saying you know them well (which can easily paint them in a negative light as well, even if you know them well).
Those are the social mechanic of the Big Three. Technically their social mechanics are all Seduce Or Manipulate/Manipulate/Parley, but I more mean social subsystem. Oaths and Honor is mine.

Making oaths is an important part of the genre. You're accountable for what you say, and making promises is not something to be taken lightly, and breaking them is even more serious, with punishment often beyond the scope of the original oath. With this mechanic, I aim to make those Oaths significant. Here's the first bit of text:
Whenever you make an oath, write it down and who it's with. When you fulfill or break the oath, something happens depending on who the oath was with (with PC; with NPC, with Yourself).
Different things happen with broken and fulfilled oaths of course. You could just try to remember the promises you've made, but some of these will be long-term things on-purpose. Plus, writing these down on your playbook sheet makes them feel important, sitting them next to such central elements of your character as your attributes and your moves - the oaths you make are defining of you as a person. 
Note: I'm splitting up the mechanics following into bits to talk about them, they're all the same mechanic until you hit the next bold header.
With PCs:
Under the Honor section of your sheet, list the other player characters' names and leave a spot next to them. During character creation you will assign values to each of these.
This is just like Hx. Honor itself shares a lot of its basic structure with Hx, but it's different in a couple ways, I promise.
When you fulfill an oath: Increase your Honor with that character by 1. If it reaches +3, it cannot go any higher, but you may at any point opt to reduce a +3 score to +1. If you do so, mark XP.
Honor goes up by keeping promises. It's a measure of how much good faith they have in you, or, if you want to phrase it as a character trait, it's how trustworthy you are. As it says, this is capped at +3. This is essentially the same as Hx's number, but you are never forced to loop around. If you want to keep using the Help/Hinder move that you haven't seen yet because I didn't care about writing it until I got to actually having a social sub-system. For now, assume it's fairly close to the Apocalypse World one, I'll talk about it at the end of the With PCs section. Anyway, high is good is enough for now, being trustworthy is a good thing, it makes you better at helping them. I like the little metaphor thing happening a little here: in ApW, when you increase your Hx to +4 it automatically becomes +1 instead and you automatically mark XP, you're just assumed to be on a new "tier" of history with them and what "tier" you're on just doesn't matter. That's not the same here, sort of. But my big thing is that it's not just looping down. If you reduce it down, you're sacrificing your selfless ability to help them to gain a selfish benefit (XP). I don't know about you, but when you give up selflessness for a selfish benefit, I trust you less, you might burn me again.
When you break an oath: Decrease your Honor with that character by 1. If it reaches -3, it can go no lower. Unlike fulfillment, you're going to need to earn that trust back, no resetting back up.
There's another difference. Nope, no looping back up. Being untrustworthy doesn't pay out with your friends. Why would you ever do it then? I have no idea, why would you actively be untrustworthy. Okay, I lied, I know exactly why: ease. It takes effort to go out and make good on your promises, and sometimes it's a choice between your own gain or filling a promise, and sometimes you're selfish. Additionally, sometimes you have no choice, if you've got conflicting promises or need to choose one or the other (if you are in this situation, dude, be careful with your promises!).
And nope, no XP for choosing yourself over others! You already got the benefit when you chose yourself, no need to reinforce that behavior.
Help/Hinder: When you help or hinder a fellow PC's roll, roll+Honor with that character. On a 10+, add +2 (if helping) or -1 (if hindering) to their roll. On a 7-9, same thing, but you get yourself in trouble in the process.
 So, looks a lot like Aid/Interfere huh? Yeah. The name is placeholder, it's just easy, but it might stick if I don't have anything more flavorful. A difference though! The numbers flipped. In ApW, interfering has the 2 and helping has the 1. In ApW, it's easier to fuck with each other than to help each other, and that's in line with the struggle-for-resources theme in that genre. Avatar? We help each other. Helping is good.
Is this a numerical unbalancing? I hope not. I feel kinda bad for having to write that one in along with the Basic Moves, it's much less outwardly flavorful. Maybe I'll put it next to a cool illustration or something.

With NPCs:
When you fulfill an oath: Take 1 Chi, and the NPC promises something in return (and takes the tag under oath until they make good).
This is milder than what you get out of keeping promises to your friends. In this instance, their return promise is likely something small, and includes the idea of gifts. They can promise to give you some food, a sack of coins, or a future favor, or something else that feels in line. What really matters is that it's a token of gratitude. I wrote it in because I felt that Chi wasn't enough, and I was kind stretching a bit. I'm adding a new thing that I just came up with right now, but I'll present it AFTER the broken result.
When you break an oath: Roll+Natural. On a 10+, they're upset, but not too bad. On a 7-9, take -1 ongoing to dealings with them until you make it up to them.
The miss is an MC move like usual, and that's probably the nastiest thing about this. Here though, THIS is more interesting:
If applicable, when you fulfill or break an oath with an NPC, choose 1 other PC who witnessed this. Take +1 (if you fulfilled) or -1 (if you broke) to your Honor with that character.
 Now NPC oaths are tied into the larger Honor system. However, I fear that this might undervalue the gravitas of the Honor system as you can generate it much easier through NPCs. So this could be in or not, or could be modified or not, I don't know. This one's just an idea.

One other thing. If an NPC is important enough, and you have a consistent and long-lasting relationship with them, give 'em an Honor score and treat 'em like you normally treat PCs. In my mental picture of the "Avatar The Last Airbender" Avatar World game, Zuko is a PC but Iroh is an NPC but they have Honor between each other. (if you're curious, Katara, Toph, Sokka, and Aang are the other players of course - if you'd like an alternative interpretation, Zuko was an NPC that one of the players decided to take on as their second character as per the improvement - I like to imagine that Sokka's player wanted to do some bending).

With Yourself: When you make an oath with yourself, write it at the top of your playbook. Promises to yourself are identity-building, not transitory like other oaths.
This one is special. I like personal oaths the most of all of them, and I think it's reflected in the rules, they're a little more inspired I think. I was trying to think outside the box thanks to The Solace (if you don't have the latest official Limited Edition Apocalypse World playbook, try to get it. If you have interesting things to trade for it let me know and we can trade - needn't be playbooks, just interesting stuff). The Solace has some incredibly interesting moves that fuck with my entire picture of what moves can do. Seriously, I'll just share one: "Radiant: advance Seduce Or Manipulate An NPC for every player character." Holy shit. That's hot as hell. Anyway, back to self-oaths:
When you make significant progress upholding your oath: Gain 1 Chi.
It needs to be significant. Make sure they're actually striving toward fulfillment when you're giving it out. That said, no need to be stingy - Chi flows pretty fast if what I'm right (which I have no idea about cuz I'm not playtesting yet).
When you fulfill your oath: Mark XP for each session in which you actively pursued fulfillment, up to a maximum of 5. Cross off the oath and replace it with a statement affirming what's been achieved. Write it in pen - this is a part of you now.
Promises to yourself are long-term things. They unfold over multiple sessions, and the harder you're striving for it the greater the pay-off. DO NOT be a pushover when considering what "actively pursued fulfillment" means, but again, don't be too stingy either. At the most, they get a full Improvement from it. If they make little promises to themselves, they can succeed at them fast, but it's worth less.
An example of the affirmative statement, from Zuko.
     Oath: "I swear I will regain my lost honor and return home."
     Statement: "I came home to my father's warm welcome, no longer an exile."
I'm actually really happy with this and am really interested in what other people think.
When you break or abandon your oath: Lose all Chi and take -1 ongoing until you make up for your failure or finally forgive yourself. Cross off the oath and replace it with a statement of your failure, but not in pen. Once you redeem or forgive yourself, revise that statement appropriately. That one's in pen.
Losing all Chi is probably a pretty significant blow. I'm giving a good number of ways to build it (so you'll lose a bunch, but make it back before too long), but it's an immediate setback paired with an extremely dangerous long-term setback.
You'll notice that this one also includes abandoning oaths. With PCs and NPCs, abandoning the promise is the same as breaking it pretty much, but with a personal oath you can abandon it without breaking it, so I'm calling it out.
You'll notice the double-statement on this one. What you failed doesn't really change who you are, it's what you do in response to that failure or how you come to understand it.
Let's have an example, another one from my buddy Zuko (this guy's whole honor schtick makes him a great guinea pig today).
     Oath: "I will capture the Avatar."
     Abandonment: "I was unable to capture the Avatar."
     Forgiveness: "I never needed to capture the Avatar to regain my honor."
That last one was what Iroh had been saying since literally episode 1. Funny how it turned out that way. (P.S. I really really liked Zuko's arc through the series, he was easily the character with the most growth as a human being in my opinion. Growing up was a theme for a lot of them, especially Sokka and somewhat Aang as well, but it's overwhelmingly strong in Zuko).

Alright then! That's the three forms of oath. Now, I had a few things I wanted to confront before I closed for the day.

1. Sometimes, it won't be clear which kind of oath you're making. It's usually very obvious whether it's with a PC or an NPC, but a lot of personal oaths can be phrased to be oaths with another as well. Here's an example one, and a common one: Swearing vengeance. Calling out that you will kill someone for what they've done can be done as both an NPC oath ("I swear I will kill you, character X") or a personal oath ("I swear I will have vengeance against character X"). Really, this is a judgment call, but it should pretty easy. If it's a minor-ish thing, it's an NPC oath. If it's a big plot-arc-y thing, it's a personal oath.

2. Oaths need to be heartfelt and sincere. "I swear I'll do your laundry" and "I promised myself I would go buy some eggs" aren't oaths, they're your players grubbing for benefits. Don't be a pushover about it. Use your head.

3. Speak Honorably is  promise-making machine. Don't forget that those totally count.

4. The Oath of Fealty. This is a very special type of oath, and not one that's particularly rare in the genre. This is especially true of the Samurai, who starts with one of these. The oath of fealty is caught in a weird place, stuck between an NPC oath and a self oath, and not in the easily-reconcilable way as above. It would be an NPC oath, but those are mild and are often without the level of gravitas that comes with a personal oath. Meanwhile, it's definitely not JUST to yourself.
The other problem is that an Oath of Fealty is never fulfilled, only furthered. When you swear allegiance, there's no way to positively succeed at that. You can make progress and further and uphold it, but you'll never be done unless you break it.
It comes down to sincerity for me. If it's some player just giving support and it's not a big plot point, call it an NPC oath. But a true Oath of Fealty, like the Samurai's, is really an oath to yourself about your lord. You use the same rules as a personal oath, but you simply will never finish. On the other hand, you have a longstanding source of Chi.

If you choose to swear fealty to, like, another PC (maybe the group's Aristocrat?), all bets are off. Handle that how you see fit. The best I've got is to replace the in-progress benefit from the Personal oath with the benefit of the fulfillment of a PC oath.

So, that's it for today! And this is the part where I tease you all again about having the Scholar pretty much presentable and then not actually showing you anything. That'll PROBABLY be next. Hopefully I'll have some non-Avatar World stuff to post pretty soon too though.

End Recording,

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