student 20 Productions

Random Thoughts of a Game Developer

Archive for the tag “Essence”

Essence: A Bit of Fiction, and Stuff

So, here we have a bit of fiction I’ve been working on. It’s intended to be an introduction to the setting/gamebook for my Essence Campaign Setting. So, here is a telling of the Legend of Nera of the Emerald Blade. I hope you enjoy.


Essence 20

Welcome to Essence. This ever-expanding record is meant to give form to the many, many stories of the realm. When I put the Essence RPG together, I plan to put all of these together as chapter headers. For now, I just hope you enjoy them, and maybe come to understand why I love this setting I have forged with the help of dearest friends.


“Where did it come from?” she asked in wonder gazing up into the leaves of the Golden Oak.

“No one knows for sure,” he said gazing at her. “It has stood since before the Mists fell.”

She reached out, paused, and then touched the tree with something between
reverence and awe. “It is… it is so beautiful.”

He thought he saw a tear appear at the corner of her eye, but that couldn’t be true. Solnyr do not cry – everyone knows that. “It is. It is one of the Great Gifts, the true wonders of Tyrce not made by man or nyrian or diathen. Not that diathen make wonders, of course” he added this last with a wry smile.
She didn’t notice his smile – she just gazed at the intricate veins of purest gold that ran through the bark. “It has gold – I thought humans were greedy for gold. Why have they not stripped it bare?”

Garek reached a three fingered hand to the great tree and gently stroked it. “It isn’t really gold. It’s Orichalcum – the Keerians call it Golden Jade. Neither tool nor essence can cut it. When the bark falls of its own accord, the men send their priests to gather it and melt it down to make Crown and Sceptre for a new Empress. The Tree only gives them enough for each coronation.”

She turned to him, wide-eyed – more emotion than he had ever seen from her. “Then – then the tree was made by the Gods as proof of the Crown’s claims to the Mandate?”

Garek looked thoughtful, turning his head from one side to the other. “Yes… and no. No one really knows where it came from, but if the legends are to be believed, the Tree was forged of purest love and honor – as was the Silverleaf in Sheria and the Heavenly Willow in Keer. If you want to believe the legends, then all were wrought of the same love. Would you like to hear the legend, Ale’ah?” he tried to sing the title as she had sung it, but he knew he had butchered it. He was a Weaver of Essence, not a singer. Only a bard could hope to do justice to the Solnyr tongue.

She didn’t seem to mind. In fact, Garek was certain he saw a faint smile at her lips – although whether it was amusement, curiosity, or affection that inspired it, he would never dare to guess. She sat, putting her small pack to her side and gazed up at him. Her legs were crossed at the ankle, and her chin rested on her knees. The posture looked uncomfortable to Gerek, but he had seen it often enough to know that it meant attentiveness in a Solnyr. “They will not trouble us if you tell me the tale here, under the tree, will they? It is sacred to the humans, isn’t it?”

“It is – and to my people, as far as that goes. But they know we cannot harm it. It is eternal, and no mortal thing can bring it harm.” He looked into her eyes, smiled, and told the tale.

Long, long ago, before the Mists fell, there was a great warrior named Nera Greenblade. The way they tell it here, she was a Minosian, but I’ve heard it told with her as a variety of human races: a Sherian, a Keerian, a Bseri – once, I heard the tale with Nera as a non-human – one of the sidhe, I think. I don’t believe that. She was human, if she ever was at all. Which race of humanity she came from is only important to humans.

She was not clever, or beautiful – or even pretty, nor was she possessed of might or mystic power beyond the ken of humans – but she was a true hero. Nera saved the lives of many over and over again. When the fey lords went mad and went on a Wild Hunt, she protected her fellow humans. When the fey retreated, she protected the goblins and other sidhe from the vengeance of man. She fought for peace always – but she always fought. Often with her long emerald blade, but when she could, she fought with words. Do you see?

She was proud – and rightly so – of her prowess, however, and often boasted that no woman or man could best her among fey or nyrian or humankind.

Tales came, however, that there was one man who perhaps could – a lone hunter in the Icy Wastes north of where the Terrison Holds are today. Far, far north where the Ice Bears and Frozen Lizards hunt one another for food and sport, there was a man called Kalah the Last – one of the ancient Sil, the ones humans call Dragon Men.

When Nera was confident that Fey and Man would be at peace for a time, she ventured north, seeking Kalah. It is said that she searched the frozen north for a decade seeking him out, but I don’t believe that part. In the end, she found him, and challenged him according to ancient human custom. Kalah, who knew nothing of human rites new or old, merely gazed back at her, enraptured, for she was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen, for a dragon’s eyes see no beauty in form, only in spirit. Kalah had never seen a mortal maid – his whole life was ancient war and the hunt, and he fell immediately in love with her, and he would not fight her. He would not harm her, and vowed that as long as he lived, he would never let her come to harm.

Nera tried to fight him anyway, but her months – I think it must have only been months – in the Icy Wastes had finally made her frail. She collapsed, and Kalah was at her side, stripping off his furs and wrapping her in them. He then carried her for a day and a half to his cabin, using his fiery breath to keep her warm. He spent a year nursing her back to health, caring for her every need. She taught him the Human Tongue, for there was only one such language before the Mists. He taught her Sil, the ancient language of his people. They hunted and sparred and lived together for a decade – and span I believe. They had found that rarest of treasures: true love. In fact, I do not think they would have come south at all, but something terrible happened.

No one knows exactly what it was, but something… horrifying happened. Some sages say it was a tear in the very fabric of the Realm. I do not know if I can believe it, but one story I heard from a traveler in my old village – which he claimed to have seen on an ancient tablet in the Imperial Museum – was that a comet burning brilliant green had rent the night, and the invaders had come from beyond the Realm of Clouds, from the stars themselves. The legends say whatever it was lived on fear and pain and misery, and that they had not pleasure but to spread it. Wherever the terror had come from, it threatened all the races of Tyrce with its malevolence. The Gods had forged the Diathen from the greatest animals of the wilds to aid humans and nyrians in battle against them, and the combined force of humankind, the diathen, and all the nyrians together, even standing with the Choir Celestial, were no match for this Legion of purest evil.

A young girl – most versions make her a chacal or one of my kind, but I don’t think it matters – found the two greatest warriors in the north, and told them what was happening with her last frozen breath. Kalah had no love for the peoples of Tyrce, but he would not let Nera face the Legion alone, and so they went, far again to the south.

The two great warriors first met the Legion north of the Chraestalwood, and in that battle, it is told that the combined force of Nera’s Blade and Kalah’s Spear – called Soulsaver – rent the back of the World Dragon, leaving the Rift – 1,000 feet across and bottomless, still seeping the evil of the Legion blood spilled that day. They fought the Legion through the Chraestalwood, joined by the forces of human and fae and nyrian and diathen as they went. In that great battle, Kalah sustained many wounds, but his vow to protect Nera never failed – she was unscathed, all the way to where we stand now, after a full week of constant battle.

Where we are now – that is where Kalah made good on his promise to protect Nera until he died. An arrow, bound with a dozen demon souls, pierced Kalah’s heart, and put him past any power of healing by mortal or god.

He fell, and told Nera he loved her with his last breath. Nera fell to his side and held him, covering him in tears turned to something more than gold, wrought from despair and true love.

At first, the Legion was nearly giddy, feeding from her abject misery – until one sought to touch her, to mingle her misery with physical pain as spice. That one fell, writhing and dying – and the others who had fed on her misery began to fall as well, poisoned with her purest love.

Then she rose to her feet and turned. It is said that no creature has seen true rage since that day. She raised Soulsaver in one hand, and her Emerald Blade in the other, and let out a scream that Zartinus, the Dark God/Goddess of Vengeance and Storms him/herself echoes to this day in the sound that follows lightning when it tears across the sky. It was a sound of pure sorrow, pure misery, and pure vengeance.

Nera swung her blade end felled armies. She thrust Soulsaver and drove back hordes of the Legion. The combined forces of humans, faerie, diathen, and nyrian could only follow her, mopping up the survivors.

She fought for a full year, across the whole of Minosia, across the Dreamsea, into deepest Sheria seeking only to avenge her fallen love, and when she felled the last of the Legions, she screamed again. She cast he sword and Soulsaver away from her, and where they came to rest no one knows. She fell to her knees and said only ‘It is done, my love.’ Then she began to cry tears of Mythryl, and her broken heart took her to the Gods.

Where Kalah fell, the Gods planted a new tree, and fed it with Nera’s tears of orichalcum, and this Great Golden Oak grew. Where Nera fell, the Gods planted another great tree, and fed it with her tears of Mythryl, and thus The Silverleaf grew. Where Soulsaver struck the ground in Keer, before vanishing into legend, they planted yet another tree, and fed it both orichalcum and mythryl tears, and the Heavenly Willow grew with its leaves of adamant.

The whole of Tyrce mourned,and even the Dragons wept bitter tears. In their infinite mercy, the Gods brought the Mists so that we could forget the horror, but they left enough clues behind so that we could remember the lives and deaths of Nera and Kalah – and so that we could understand the living monuments left to Honor, Love, and Just Vengeance.


The New Reach: Tiers Mean More

My friend B pointed out that the flexibility of the Competence/Reach system as I had originally designed it is a flaw, not a strength. While it will probably appear as I described it as an optional rule, for general play it’s way too number-crunchy at high levels. If your group is into that, fine (hence the inclusion as a rule option), but I agree with B that, with most groups, this can lead to some very annoying game lag.

The problem is that, for the statistics-savvy player, this is a gold-mine for min-maxing. There’s nothing wrong with that… until it holds up game play as the player weighs the advantages of 5d20 vs. 10d10, or some other combination. To avoid this problem, we talked (B and I) for a while, and I came up with a solution that I think not only works, but helps to emphasize the Tiers of skill and simplifies the whole affair.

At Apprentice tier, Reaching means -5 to Competence, but you add in 1d10 (so an Apprentice with a Competence of 6 would roll 1d10+1 when reaching). At Journeyman tier, reaching means -10 to Competence, but adding in 2d10 (so if your Competence was 18, you would roll 2d10+8). At Expert tier, you reach with -15 to Skill, but add 3d10. At Master level, you gain the ability to choose any of the previous Reach modifiers (-5/+1d10, -10/+2d10, – 15/+3d10), or you can use -20/+4d10.

Grandmaster tier will most likely be an extension of the above  – you can choose -5/+1d10, -10/+2d10, -15/+3d10, -20/+4d10, or -25/+5d10.

Another idea I was toying with is to use different dice for different tiers – d6 for Apprentice, d8 for Journeyman, d10 for Expert, and d12 for Master/Grandmaster. With this method, a Apprentice could take a -5 to add a 1d6, a Journeyman could take a -10 to add a 2d8, and an Expert could take a -15 to add a 3d10. A Master could take the options of -5/+1d12, -10/+2d12, -15/+3d12, or -20/+4d12. The Grandmaster Tier would add a possible -25/5d12 to the mix. I’d prefer to have the Grandmaster use a d14, but that’s a pretty

A 14-sided die (by GameScience, also shows day...

Image via Wikipedia

uncommon die type (you can buy them here), and I don’t want people to have to go out and buy special dice just for my game.

Each version of the new system has its ups and downs. Most significantly, the second version makes getting to the next tier much more important. It also makes reaching at Apprentice level (and, to a lesser degree, Journeyman level) a dangerous thing to do.

I suppose I could split the difference. I could make Apprentice use d8, Journeyman and Expert use d10, and Master/Grandmaster use d12. Or, it could be Apprentice d8, Journeyman through Master d10, and Grandmaster d12…

Ouch. Braincramp…

In any case, the first option has the advantage of only needing a single type of die for the game. The different tiers are still important, but the difference between Apprentice and Journeyman is more subtle. Not much more, but a bit. I’m really not sure whether or not I want the tiers to be that significant.

What do you think?

Enhanced by Zemanta

No review, but plenty of other stuff to talk about…

Well, that fell through disastrously. The promised review isn’t done. I simply haven’t had the time. I apologize, but it has since occurred to me that maybe my brother’s review blog isn’t the right format for an indy RPG review in any case. I mean, it’s a great format; I wish more in-depth reviews used it, but going over some of his stuff I have come to the conclusion that maybe… just maybe… it’s a format that works better for visual media. More specifically, I could see using it for TV and Movies… but less so for books or video games. Maybe I should try to find a format of my own to use…

In development news, I got more work done last night on my Essence system than in the preceding week all together, and it looks like I may pull off much the same thing tonight, which is fantastic. I have the basic task resolution mechanic in place, and have begun constructing character creation rules, along with everything that will appear on a character. Which brings me to a question.

I’m looking at dividing the combat mechanic up, essentially making two different combat systems for the game. The idea runs like this:

  1. Standard Combat: This combat system eschews battle maps and the related tactical side of combat. The idea is to have a simple, quick to run system for folks who don’t want to spend a lot of time on combat, or who like their combat map-free.
  2. Art of War: This is the map combat system for Essence, with a focus on tactical movement. Art of War requires players to make a sort of sub-character, derived from the main character sheet, that has information specific to Art of War combat. The eventual idea would be to make it so you could just make the Art of War sheet, allowing groups to have fun little skirmish battles and run pvp tournies if that’s what they’re into without getting into a full-on game.
So yeah, in a way, the Art of War combat system is a game within a game. It’s all very complicated, tautological, and Hamlet-esque.
At any rate, keeping in mind the two modes of running combat above, I’m wondering if things like defense (i.e. what a character does to avoid getting tagged in combat) should be separate derived abilities, or if they should be based directly on Skills (the Essence system is a Skill based one – did I forget to mention that?). That is to say, should characters have a separate sub-stat  that works sort of like a Challenge rating for how hard they are to hit, or should Characters be expected to buy up skills for use in defense or default to an Agility stat for a defense check?

I’m not really asking anyone in particular this question, you understand. I mean, I welcome any and all opinions on the matter – and would be more than happy to clarify the conundrum if you need me to… but mostly I’m talking about it here so that I can get my brain wrapped around the problem. I guess it comes down to this: how much complexity do I want in the Standard Combat system? The whole purpose of dividing the combat systems into two different methods is so that a game group can choose between a simple, streamlined, relatively quick combat system (if their game is combat light, or they don’t want to deal with the complexity of battle-map based tactical combat) and a more in-depth tactical skirmish system that uses minis and so on (if the game has a lot of combat, or the group enjoys full tactical combat similar to what’s found in the more recent editions of Dungeons & Dragons).

I want groups to have that choice. Of course, groups always have that choice – nothing stops you from ignoring tactical map-based combat rules in any game you play. I want the choice up-front and supported either way by the system. Is that too much to hope for?

As a final note: as of this writing, in about two hours, the sixth series of the new Doctor Who (or the thirty-sixth season of Doctor Who, if you prefer to think of it that way) will air in England. Here in the States, of course, we have to wait another 12 hours or so to see it, but I just wanted to let everyone know how excited I am that it’s finally here (YAY!!). Everyone got their scarfs, sonic screwdrivers, and TARDIS keys ready? Fantastic. Hopefully, I’ll be able to post a few thoughts on the episode tonight. If not, look forward to a post about the episode tomorrow.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Post Navigation