Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Designer's Notes: How Very Tempting




Writing "How Very Tempting" was among my easier articles - about 27 hours (most of that spent revising - I wrote the whole thing in about 3 hours) total. I knew what I wanted and I went for it. I'd been fooling around with a system for some time in my own campaigns (which this one was based off of), but I'd never full on codified it. There was usually no need - my PCs never were dumb enough to strike a Faustian bargain they couldn't get out of. So when I saw the Tools of the Trade entry for "Villians" I was like "Self, you could totally write up that article about souls now. So go do it." So I did. Oh, one thing I tend to do before I write is to put together a bunch of titles for boxes and the like that I'll use that revolve around the theme. A few I didn't use: "Damned Man Walking," "Giving Up the Ghost, For a Price," "Dealing in Unreal Estate," "Pimp My Hide," "Visiting an Afterlife Renegotiation Agent," and "Soul Proprietor."


Under the Hood: Damnation
The Damnation disadvantage wasn't exactly created from whole cloth, in fact it's based upon Black Penalty/Spiritual Distortion with a few things added in. Each level of Damnation is built as:

  • Susceptible (all supernatural abilities of a specific entity) [-1/level].
  • Spiritual Distortion [-3/level].
  • One level of Reputation (those who can see auras; all the time) [3.3/level] at levels 1, 3, 6, and 9 and flattening the cost to about [-1/level]. "New people" reacting badly is essentially a feature (it's a smaller subgroup of those who can read auras).

The Hellbound enhancement is basically a leveled quirk "Obtain new disadvantages when I damn my soul further." The Tainted enhancement turns the Reputation into "all people" and after flattening the cost results in Damnation increasing the cost by -1/level. The Free-Willed limitation removes the Susceptible part of Damnation. Virtuous Cloak removes Reputation as a part of Damnation.


Being a Broker of Souls
Actually being able to sell or buy souls is a Unusual Background (Soul Broker) for 10 points - but you're still going to need the various abilities to fulfill your bargains to your sellers. A (small) suggested list (expanded from GURPS Powers) might include:

  • Dictating Events: Super Luck 1 (Wishing, +100%; Uses Soul Points, x1/5 pts) [40/level]. Higher levels allow you to do this more often (as suggested on p. 80 of GURPS Powers).
  • Creating Objects: Probably the easiest route would be to buy Snatcher (Creation, +100%; Large Items, +50%; More Weight, 100 lbs., +40%; Permanent, +300%; Uses Soul Points, x1/5 pts) [95]. An alternate might be Create (All Matter; Transformation, +50%) [120/level] with the feature "Uses Soul Points instead of Character Points to stabilize matter."
  • Granting Traits: Affliction (Extended Duration, Permanent, Irreversible, +300%; Malediction 1, +100%; Variable Enhancement (Accessibility, Advantages or Negated Disadvantages only, -30%), +7,000%; Costs Soul Points, x1/5 pts) [148]. This allows the character to bestow up to 100 points of advantages or remove up to 100 points of disadvantages for the measly cost of one soul point...

Those are just the "broad strokes" other entities might have Warp, Jumper (Time or World), other forms of magic (powered by soul point bought reserves), and so on. So a "minor wishing" power might cost a PC 265 points and allow him to dictate the result of any die roll in his presence, create up to 100 lbs. of any matter, and grant up to 100 points of advantages (or remove up to -100 points of disadvantages. GMs may wish to wrap this all in a single meta-trait "Soul Broker" might therefore cost 275 character points.


Using it with GURPS Monster Hunters
The Lonely Child example provides a good idea on what might be possible for someone desperate enough to sell their soul, but a few other examples might be:

  • Information: Perhaps a Crusader or Witch has access to their soul points and use them to bargain away for knowledge to eldritch beings. For example, Contact Group (Loa; Skill-21; 12 or less; Supernatural Means; Very Reliable; Costs Soul Points) for 20 points might allow the access of any knowledge...at a price.
  • Resurrection: Since Extra Life is explicitly allowed in Monster Hunters, this might not seem like much of a switch...but getting back in the game with all your abilities intact and unspent character points could be a huge win for your side - until you really die.
  • Raw Power: Since each soul point translates to 25 FP or Mana Reserve witches and other supernatural power users using up your soul might be well worth it...
  • Reincarnation: If the GM allows, it may be possible to spend your soul points on acquiring a Inhuman racial template - even if you normally are another template entirely. Since the value multiplier for a Monster Hunters game is x2 a sufficiently "valuable" soul might be able to use both unspent character points and soul points to pay for such a thing...or acquire new disadvantages to make up the difference.


Unused Example: The Lonely Child
Oliver Rusk grew up hard on the streets. Abandoned at the tender age of five by drug-addicted parents, he quickly learned to fend for himself. But this harsh survival made him bitter and distrustful. One dark night, Oliver got into fight with a fellow street person over a blanket he had discovered. When Oliver lost he got so mad he wished the thief would get hurt...and then air conditioning unit from one of the apartments above fell on him. Watching the human scream in pain and agony, Oliver knew this was only the beginning. Channeling all his rage and anger, he mastered his newfound magical abilities. Eventually, he was found by another witch and taken in. Oliver’s new master, Fagin was kind at first, but soon showed his true colors. He forced Oliver and all the other magically gifted children in his care to act as living magical batteries to fuel his own rituals. One night while sneaking into the locked room where Fagin kept his grimoires, Oliver discovered a ritual to summon a demon. Gathering the required materials together, he left to summon the demon in the nearby garage. When it appeared, it was not as Oliver had been expecting, and took the shape of a ragged little girl calling herself Nancy. She spoke with Oliver and soon the two became fast friends. Over the course of a few days, she taught Oliver new rituals and eventually helped him to overthrow Fagin who ran away into the night. That was when she made the offer: Oliver could make their “friendship” permanent and she could stay with him all the time. It would only be a little piece of soul, and even then, did he really use his soul? Oliver agreed, and performed the ritual summoning Nancy into the real world. Oliver’s bitter nature began to take over and more and more he blamed the adults of the city for what had happened to him. With Nancy’s help, Oliver cast a ritual to encapsulate his hometown in an impenetrable bubble. Then, Oliver started to summon small quick rat-like demons he called “Artful Dodgers,” whom he set on the adult population. 
In this Monster Hunters game, Oliver Rusk is a magician (Monster Hunters 4, p. 11) specializing in Path of Chance and Spirit. He agreed to a flexible contract with no preset time limit as long as he summoned Nancy into the real world. While he has few “good” disadvantages (Sense of Duty (Friends)), one “bad” one (Bad Temper), the GM decided that his age and raw power (he has the Ritual Adept advantage) would be deciding factors. He had a total of 350 soul points. This calculated as 25 (the base) + 5 (his purity level) - 5 (his impurity level) x 14 (since most Monster Hunters games start at 400 points, this increases the Value by +2; also, Oliver is a child and has the possibility for great power, so the GM increases the value by a further +4; additionally, though Oliver doesn’t know he was born the seventh son of the seventh son he is, so the GM increases it by a further +7).
With Nancy’s tutelage, Oliver quickly becomes a full-fledged witch (Monster Hunters 1, p. 20), this costs 200 soul points. Oliver also gains 40 points worth of assorted abilities chosen from the gifted template’s Seventh Son of a Seventh Son customization notes (Monster Hunters 4, p. 9), for 40 soul points. He spends a further 40 points on purchasing a Comfortable wealth level and Independent Income 5; he’s tired of living on the streets! This cost 40 soul points. This leaves Oliver with 70 soul points left. Since that’s equal to 20% of his starting soul point total, Oliver has Damnation 8 (Naamah aka “Nancy”). Since Oliver willingly works with her he doesn’t have a Duty toward her, and in fact in his eyes she falls under his Sense of Duty (Friends) disadvantage!


Unused Example: The Wizardly Dunce
Lurtz has wanted to study magic his entire life. Unfortunately, he was never been with the gift (e.g., Magery 0). After being turned away as a candidate for the Star Winds School, he goes to a crossroad and waits for a demon to appear. Lurtz isn’t exactly an innocent, but nor does he have any truly “bad” traits. The GM (playing the crossroads demon) rolls against Lurtz’s nonexistent Law (Esoteric Contract) skill, getting a margin of eight (in favor of the demon). Since Lurtz started out with 25 soul points, this reduces his total to 15 soul points, just enough to buy Magery 1... Lurtz will be able.

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