Level Up! pt 2

Friday, March 14, 2008 - 11:08 AM

In Destined, there are many planes of existence, but all of them overlap in a central bubble, which is the Destiny Plane. All other planes are limited by their nature in potential and change, but the Destiny Plane represents all of their possibilities. Within the Destiny bubble, there are universes upon universes flowing in a constant stream of actions and consequences and events. The strongest of these streams within a stream is the Destiny Prime, which represents the campaign world. Whether or not it is one single world among many, or several universes in itself isn't important for this discussion. What is important here is that destiny flows strongest through the Prime.

Destiny here is not a passive force. It isn't a foreordained doom or prophecy that comes to pass automatically. Destiny in this cosmology is fluid, and uncertain. However, it does obey certain laws. We'll examine these laws in the context of levels.

Levels, in the Destined setting, are interpreted as accumulations of destiny (not that any character has any notion of this). The more levels one has, the more significant one's destiny has become, be it through personal decisions or mere circumstance. When a character goes from level 1 to level 5, they are forcing their will for change upon the cosmos, and though destiny is grudging, it will move once enough momentum is generated.

As the character continues to advance in levels, they face greater difficulties, because destiny naturally seeks equilibrium. This is one reason why higher level encounters, before apparently unnoticed or simply not there, abruptly crop up when characters reach a higher level. Destiny pushes back, when it gets pushed... to the point of suddenly throwing momentum into a local ogre, say, who the characters might remember as being a lowly warlord. This local ogre suddenly finds things happening in his favor, and behold, he becomes a monstrous emperor with a great army. When one carries great destiny, others of similar weight are drawn to you. This works both ways; a standard fantasy trope is that a mighty evil overlord appears, only to be overthrown by an unlikely group of heroes... who level up very quickly, don't they?

Just as destiny can pool against the dam of a high level character, it can also drain from a place when equilibrium is met. Though it is difficult to simulate mechanically, I judge that accumulated destiny fades if the possessor does nothing with it, or has achieved his goals, or otherwise ceased to carry momentum. In a good many legends, great heroes eventually die from some small, minor thing after they've done with being great heroes, and I use that as a proof. Hercules is slain by a poisoned shirt, for example. Sure, it was assumed it was a very nasty poison, but maybe he just didn't have the saving throw he used to.

In my campaign, I restrict this increase/decrease effect to NPCs only. I'm continually toying with a mechanical representation of this, inspired by the excellent Spiritual Attributes mechanic of Riddle of Steel (fantastic game, play it if you get the chance). In sum, the SA mechanic means that your character only 'levels up' when they are pursuing certain aspects of their life which are tremendously important to them, and further, those SA's provide mechanical benefit. A peasant who believes in his cause can be a surprisingly strong adversary to a well-trained knight who doesn't have a cause at all. I see destiny as working in the same way. Sometimes it is thrust upon someone, usually to counterbalance the actions of another. Sometimes it is gathered unconsciously by those who have something to prove to the world.

The notion of the Destiny Prime spawned some other ideas, also. If there is a Prime, then there are alternate realities within the Destiny Plane that have branched off from decisions made in the Prime. These decisions are significant enough to create a different stream, but most of these end up flowing back into the Prime. Some, however, do not, and form bubbles of their own. Perhaps one day, their events, histories and contents will be seamlessly integrated into the Prime if they grow close enough, but until then, they rest apart. Some fundamental decision, somewhere back in the chain of causality, made these bubbles very different sorts of places. The inhabitants of the Prime are utterly unaware of these destiny bubbles, and would probably be disturbed at some of them.

My submission to the Wizards of the Coast setting search competition was one such bubble, a world called Rhoa. In Rhoa, conflict is hard-coded into the flow of destiny; there will never really be peace there. The divergence from the Prime ensures that conflict will continue. This makes it a brutal, visceral sort of place where beauty is precious and fleeting. The setting has gone through several stages of refinement and expansion since its creation for the competition, and I'll be sharing some facets of it in later posts.

Final note for today: My players are all awesome. I'm a happy man.



At March 14, 2008 12:38 PM, Blogger MCHossman said...

More to come later, but in reading this I couldn't help but get the imagry of a bunch of peaceful hamlets dotting a counryside where the peasants were all smacking their heads, saying "Oye, ve" when a group of adventurers came riding through.

The start of the adventure? When a young lad cries out to his father "Da, better get the goats in, the wolves are going to be fierce this year!"


At March 19, 2008 7:28 AM, Blogger MCHossman said...

I'd have to admit that I'm not completely sold on this paradigm that you've set up here. I think it could work as a game setting, but I'm not all that convinced that it is internally consistent with the traditional game mechanic.

I've also noticed that as characters advance they tend to not face the standard 'goblin cave' that they had trouble with in the land of Hamlet, but part of that is because there is no challenge to that type of encounter anymore. Part of the purpose of the RPG is to challenge and force the players to adapt to newer and more difficult tasks so that they can use their greater skills and abilities. Where this doesn't necessarily challenge your 'Gravity of Destiny' theory, it opens up more questions - at least to me.

(I'm nicking this 'gravity of destiny' because it seems like the greater and stronger the PCs become the stronger their influence or rather the reaction the world around them has to their presence)

In a RPG the only way to show advancement or an increase in skill is by using the level system. There are other systems out there but for the most part there is a universal need to stratify a person's ability so you can compare and demonstrate a character's prowess. If you base everything on levels then how do you show a NPC's natural genius of an artist or a horse wrangler or a knife thrower without converting those specific qualities into levels. And if you translate everything into levels then how does that alter or challenge this 'Gravity of Destiny' world that you have created?

Why aren't Level 10 PCs able to find a warren of level one and two goblins? Well because the return on those adventures probably don't warrant them. It's one thing if you're level 1 and clearing out a cave complex of low level critters because the 200 or so GP reward will probably seem like a lot, but at Level 10, when the group are toting around Bags of Holding of CPs that they use as sling ammunition, not so much.

Now this is just my knee jerk reaction to the paradigm. As I said, you can certainly have a world work this way but it seems like it would be a very chaotic environment to live in even though it exists within a very strict set of rules and relationships. A traveling group of adventurers would be like big boulders smashing into a body of water, the ripples would be great and distorting only to have the adventurers leave and cause the same amount of chaos in their leaving (creating a vacuum) as when they appeared.

As to a peasant becoming an adversary to an adventuring group or knight without a cause... that is typcially based on the attributes and characteristics of the peasant. A level 5 peasant would be have a much greener thumb, perhaps be a little stronger and have more endurance (not necessarily reflected in Constitution mind you), know more about the caring, raising and training of animals, mayhap a better understanding and talent for predicting weather, etc. than a level 1 peasant but this in and of itself doesn't make him a greater adversary to a PC. That is usually based solely on his natural attributes, a quirk of personality and a story bite that puts the peasant at odds with the PC in question.

Not knowing much of the Riddle of Steel system, I'd say that once this peasant received this sort of inspiration to take up a cause or become an adversary he would then move from being a static piece of background to that of becoming an NPC of note. I think this meshes fine with the RoS understanding of what I have, but he wouldn't continue down the line of a leveled peasant, he would become something more, a class of some sort to reflect these new abilities or capabilities that the once peasant now seeks to use vs. the PC.

So, my arguments don't necessarily discount your ideas but the comings and goings of a party of PC's challenges how fluid a world based on this could be. I think it would end up being much too chaotic to sustain itself. What happens to all of the level 7 brigands once the PCs leave the city and move to a different locale? Become fat and marry a rancher's daughter, but if they are level 7 then wouldn't they also have earned some degree of 'gravity' to affect the world around them.

(See, lack of gaming makes me a little verbose)


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