Thursday, August 9, 2012

Whitebox: Elements

This house rule attempts to cultivate a player typology which then allows players to pursue -- and be rewarded for -- activities which they find personally satisfying.  All too often, a player who is primarily interested in, say, interpersonal relationships with the other players gets punished for table-talk, banter, exploring backstories of other PCs, etc at a table where Hard Core SWAT-style Dungeon Clearing is the order of the day.  Likewise, some tables focus heavily on role playing and the one player interested in clearing dungeons like its her job is punished for failing to talk about the feelings of the PCs.

The fundamental premise is that players can be described on two axis:  quality of interaction with the game world and with other players.  On each axis, players can either interact with or act on the respective aspect of the experience.  By identifying that axis explicitly, interesting abilities and rewards can be tailored for each player.

There is no need to balance these among the group.  The entire group may be one or two elements.  In solo or two player games, in particular, the interpersonal elements (air/fire) should probably be de-emphasized or avoided.


Characters may select one element to be their foundational basis.  The classical elements should be based more on player -- not character -- characteristics.  Elements determine two important things:  quests (used for gaining "bonuses" when levelling up) and a few special benefits related to focus and action points.

QUESTS:  At the start of each main quest, randomly determine (draw/roll) a side quest related to your character's element.  The quests have been linked.  This side quest can remain a secret (i.e. you don't have to tell other players).  If it is fulfilled at the end of the main quest, you gain one of the following rewards:

  • Action Hero:  Start next adventure with +2 Action Points (or class based equivalent)
  • Loot:  Cash reward equal to LEVEL*4^2, or appropriate magic item
  • Long Haul:  +1 to ability score of your choice
STATUS (Expend Action Point):  Each element lets the character spend a turn to gain access to or influence an institution or potentially helpful NPC.  A normal reaction roll should be made. There are three different forms:
  • Add wandering NPC of same tier (+/- 1 level) who comes to the PC's current location.   The NPC will stay in the general area and may make a few more spontaneous appearances until the completion of the current quest.
  • Add fixed NPC of one tier (no more than +3 levels) greater who has a fixed place of business in a local town.  The NPC will stay in business until at least the completion of the current quest.
  • Gain favor of NPC of up to two tiers (no more than +6 levels) greater; this is not a charm but the NPC will be favorably disposed (at least granting an audience) for the duration of the current quest.

  • Theme:  Interact with the game world.
  • Status (Expend Action Point):  Clergy (Priests, Monks, Nuns, etc) and Sages
  • Know Creature (Expend Focus/Full Round Action):  Target a creature within 12".  If the target fails a saving throw, you learn their current and maximum HP, HD, AC, the type of monster, broad emotional state, and major special abilities.  If they pass the save you learn nothing.
  • Treasure Map (Expend Action Point/Turn):  Gain a treasure map showing the way to some unique treasure or a key to solving a major quest.  The map could be a literal scroll, or it could be in the form of a useful guide or clue.
  • Theme:  Act on the game world.
  • Status (Expend Action Point):  Merchants (traders, moneylenders, caravaners)
  • Expend Focus:  ???
  • Cache (Expend Action Point/Turn):  Establish a secure cache, hideout, or small stronghold where a few people or valuable goods may be secured.  It could be a secure safe deposit box at a bank in town, a barricaded strong room in the dungeon, or a secret shack deep in the Black Marsh.
  • Theme:  Interact with other people at the table.
  • Status (Expend Action Point):  Nobles (Knights errant, landholders, aristocrats, etc)
  • Expend Focus:  ???
  • Language (Expend Action Point):  Your character learns a new language.  You will have an accent and lack proficiency of a native speaker but can interact with many more NPCs in the adventure.
  • Theme:  Act on other people at the table.
  • Status (Expend Action Point):  Commoners (farmers, shepherds, smiths, laborers)
  • Command (Expend Focus/Full  Round Action):  Move one of your allies a normal move which must end closer to you, or have one of your allies make a normal attack.  The forced move must not expose the ally to obvious undue harm or instant death (i.e. it is not a magical compulsion or domination).
  • Share Quest (Expend Action Point):  All other player characters may add your current side quest to their list of quests.  They can receive credit for fulfilling the quest.  You remain the focus of the quest (for example, if you have to convince the others to attempt a quest your way, they only gain credit for the quest for trying it your way -- not for trying it their way).

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