Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Character Creation: Elements, the basics of your Power

This is a smaller section, the explanation and description of your samurai's Elements. Is it obviously patterned after L5R? Yes. Which is also obviously derived from Musashi's Book of Five Rings, which is derived from Buddhist philosophy, which is...

Look, L5R didn't make this up. Nor am I strictly using the elemental breakdown quite like they did; it's not broken up into separate statistics, for instance, in a mind-body split. That distinction is Western holdover, and I don't think it needs to be explicit in an "Eastern" influenced RPG. And I want to minimize numbers. Sort of.

I keep going back and forth on whether to stop calling them Elements and call them Rings. Musashi does. And it gives a good indication that they are a continuum, not irreducible fundamentals (look up the dependent arising of Buddhism, folks, good stuff). But ti still seems a bridge too far in homage. What do you think? Is Elements too stiff a term, and Rings interesting and historical?


Each Element represents an elemental balance in the character’s make-up, a force measured in Ranks. Cultivating one's Elements is not merely a numerical calculation, however, but requires spiritual purity and understanding to unlock the highest virtues of the samurai. Thus, Elements cannot exceed 5 Ranks unless you have either the Shingaku or Zen Skill with at least 7 Ranks. While the Elements each have descriptions of qualifiers at each Rank, these are only rough guidelines and not limitations carved in stone.

The Ring of Earth (“chi”) is the element of passive strength, resistance, and fortitude. It represents your capacity to just say “No,” and to push your body and mind to its utmost limits.

  1. Timid, easily frightened, unassertive, and easily manipulated. Weak immune system, prone to chronic illness and disease.
  2. Average, easy to convince if your goals are the same. Average health, might catch a cold every so often.
  3. Not a strong will, but not one easily dissuaded from action. Walk on a sprained ankle without a wince and run long distances before getting winded.
  4. Almost unshakable in resolve. Robust and mighty, able to perform incredible feats of endurance.
  5. Iron-willed, steadfast, and resolute. Can swim great distances with ease, recover from illness without medical attention, and ignore serious wounds.

No: Sometimes, when it comes to Effects that affect you, or ruin some setting element you have a stake in, you just want to say No.

Now, you shouldn't. Much. But sometimes...

So use your Earth. Spend an Honor and make an Earth roll, TN equal to the roll's total creating the Effect. If you succeed, all Effects from the roll are canceled. All of them.

Better to trust.

The kami, as every peasant knows, are fickle. All prayer rolls facilitate their magic through Effects, unless governed by some other Parameter. And they respect a strong will. Remember that.

Wounds: Earth also governs the amount of damage you can take; these are your Wounds. Whenever your foe's attack roll exceeds your Defense, you take a single Wound. That's it. One Wound. Of course, the attacker can also use Raises to deal extra Wounds, and some weapons may also affect how Wounds are inflicted.

So, how many Wounds can you take? You can take a number equal to your Earth at no penalty. After this, each additional Wound inflicts a -1k1 penalty to all rolls you make until healed, again up to your Earth. With an Earth of 3 you can take up to 3 Wounds at no penalty, then up to another 3 Wounds and a -3k3 penalty.

Once you reach that maximum, each additional Wound's effects are no longer measured by your Earth. The first post-penalty Wound received sends you Down. You are crippled and forced to the ground, prone. You may still speak and move at a crawl, but you can take no Actions that involve rolling dice. None. Your passive Defense is considered 5, plus armor or modifiers that do not require movement or concentration.

The second post-penalty Wound reduces you to Out. You are knocked unconscious, unable to act until healed.

Any more Wounds kill you. Yes, you can be hurt worse than Dead; if you're at Out and then take 5 Wounds, these are not reduced. You are thoroughly eviscerated, incinerated, or otherwise destroyed.

To sum up, if you have an Earth of 2, you could survive 6 Wounds; 7 Wounds would kill you. If you have an Earth of 5, you could survive 12 Wounds; 13 Wounds would kill you.

Taking Wounds is an abstract measure of punishment you can take, ephemeral damage that heals quietly and relatively quickly. But sometimes damage is more permanent and immediate, including:
  • Scarring: Sometimes just making sure your foe never forgets you is enough. If you deal Wounds equal to your opponent's Earth or more, you can spend an additional Raise to lower all damage to 1 Wound and give them the Scarred Fortune; even magic cannot wipe away this Wound as it disrupts the target's energy so badly it leaves a permanent signature even after healing naturally. You can do this even if they already have such a scar, but each such scar is either large (such as across the chest) or easily visible (such as on the face or hand).
  • Loss of Limb: Losing a leg or arm in battle leaves a foe at a serious disadvantage. If you strike an opponent for Wounds equal to twice their Earth, you can spend an additional Raise to chop off or otherwise mangle one of the foe's appendages, depending on the weapon used; weapons that typically only pierce (such as arrows or daggers) cannot sever limbs. This Raise cannot be a Free Raise. Even if the limb is still attached, the damage is so severe and traumatic that while the Wounds heal, the limb damage is permanent. Even magic cannot repair it; like with a scar, the energy is too far disrupted. The foe must immediately make an Earth roll (TN 5 x Wounds suffered) or fall unconscious and be considered Out for the rest of the Scene. If they remain standing, they must still spend an Honor not to scream in pain and be considered Down for the rest of the Scene; if in the middle of a Skirmish, this must be spent at the beginning of each new round. Although missing a limb, the recipient does not gain the Luck Exists in the Leftovers Fortune.
  • Beheading: Losing a head is immediate death. If you strike an opponent for Wounds equal to three times their Earth or more, you can spend an additional Raise to chop off or otherwise mangle their head, depending on the weapon used; weapons that typically only pierce (such as arrows and daggers) cannot behead a foe, nor can poor quality weapons. This Raise cannot be a Free Raise. If the opponent has an Okuden or other ability that lets them act when Down, Out, or Dead, they can still use it, their body flailing about in a last ditch effort for vengeance, unless you did enough damage to kill normally. They cannot, however, spend an Honor for a Final Strike. If performing a beheading as a second in a seppukku or executing a non-resisting or immobilized captive, you do not need to fulfill any of these requirements; a single bonus Effect will suffice.

The Element of Fire (“hi”) is the element of active energy, the principle physical and mental burst of action. Melee attacks and other tests of agility are governed by Fire, as are social actions fueled by emotional passion.

  1. Clumsy and stumbling. Excessively timid.
  2. Average coordination, requires concentration for difficult actions. Not terribly inspirational.
  3. Even your average actions are quick and exact. There's a certain fire in your eyes.
  4. Both your reflexes and wits are sharp as your blade.
  5. Speed actually increases your precision, and foes tremble when you rage.

How Do They Act?: There are times when you want to be sure of what's going on around you, when it's important to take note of how people interact, what they are doing, and why. Feel free to ask your SD.

SD, don't worry if you don't know. When you don't, ask the player to give you the answer.

That's right. Hand over control. And player, you might not know how you're acting either when someone asks, so go ahead and ask them back.

Now the original questioner must make a Fire roll, simple TN 10. However, every Raise you make gives you bonus Effects for narrative authority. If you want, you can opt to use any appropriate social Skill using Fire.

So make it up.

The Element of Water (“mizu”) is the element of reflex and clarity. This represents how quickly you react to stimuli, and is used when defending yourself. Your grace and poise are also reflected in your Water.

  1. You take a moment or two to decide to jump out of the way of large onrushing objects. You slouch and fidget.
  2. Average reflexes, not well refined. You can sit for long periods of times properly.
  3. Able to react before just about anyone else. You glide more than walk.
  4. Cat-like in your ability to sense danger. Every move is a delicate dance.
  5. You’re out of the room before anyone knows you’re gone. Just the way you breathe draws attention.

What Happens?: Water is an element of time, as being and time are a moon reflected in a dewdrop. And sometimes a Scene can drag on and on… until you ask, “What happens?”

And the SD doesn't know. That's why it's been dragging on, after all. So let it end. The SD says they don't know… “What do you think happens next?”

Like How Do They Act?, you can determine what happens next in the Scene using bonus Effects. Roll your Water with a simple TN 10, and spend Raises for each bonus Effect.

This ends the Scene.

The Element of Wind (“kaze”) is the element of intuition, empathy, knowledge, and unity of space.

  1. You almost always find a way to say the wrong thing. Easily confused and slow thinking.
  2. Average thinker, can follow difficult conversations with concentration. You’re able to get along with people who get along with you.
  3. You can usually sense deeper emotions than those that are shown on the surface. Can figure out puzzles and decipher codes with little work.
  4. Intellect of a scholar, not easily deceived by even the most clever lies. You can pick up hints even from those who are skilled at hiding their emotions.
  5. A genuine genius, clear-thinking and brilliant. You know everyone’s secrets... sooner or later.

What Do I Know?: Like How Do They Act? and What Happens?, you can determine what you know about the world around you. Roll your Wind, simple TN 10, with Raises for each bonus Effect.

And you can use any appropriate Lore Skill for this roll, using Wind, too.

The Element of Void (“ku”) is unlike the others, for it represents your ability to use all Elements as a single Element. The higher your Void, the more you understand that all elements are really the same element. Void affects how effective you can be in gaining control of the narrative around you by granting Action Dice and determining maximum Raises. It is also linked to the sense of sight, rating how perceptive you are of all the elements around you. As a shorthand, you can substitute Void for all perception rolls, regardless of the sense being used.

  1. You miss even important and obvious details. Your accomplishments are beneath notice.
  2. You pick up on things when you pay attention. You have the potential to be astoundingly average.
  3. You’ve learned how to look for important details. You tend to succeed a little better than others.
  4. You take one look, close your eyes, and list the details of a room. You know you'll make your ancestors proud.
  5. No matter how insignificant and minor, no detail gets past you. You might be a legend in your own time.

What Do I See?: Like How Do They Act?, What Happens?, and What Do I Know?, you can use Void to flesh out the Scene around you. Roll your Void, simple TN 10, with Raises for each bonus Effect.

And you can also use any appropriate Skill for this roll, using Void.

So, to sum up:

You can use Fire to define the people around you (even yourself), Water to define and end a Scene, Wind to define the global environment, and Void to define the immediate environment.

All with bonus Effects.

And you can use Earth to say No.

So don't tell your SD you can't think of what to do with Raises outside of combat. No excuses.


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