Xavid (kihou) wrote,

Librarians Errant: Truths and Motes

So, mucking about with my ideas for Librarians Errant, I've ended up positing a system, working name "Truths", that's heavily influenced by my experience with Chuubo's, WTF, and Dogs in the Vineyard. It's still very much in flux, but here's a basic sketch of part of it… with examples almost completely of no relation to Librarians.

Most of the things on your character sheet are truths of one sort or another. Truths can represent your character's skills and abilities, something they have, their goals, or what's important to them.

The simplest type of truth is a "basic truth". A basic truth isn't inherently useful or effective, but it is, at least to a limited extent, true. It's often a declaration of intent or that something is meaningful to the character or player.

  • Tslarc has the basic truth carving a cloud god. It's unclear what he hopes to accomplish by doing so, but his player is declaring that this is meaningful in some way that's not just part of his sculptor skill.
  • Yolanda has the basic truth aspiring swordswoman. It doesn't help her win fights yet, but she's working on it. It might have useful implications that could be useful: that she has a sword, for example.
  • Bronwen has the basic truth I will find my mom. It's a declaration of intent rather than some sort of prophecy, though Bronwen is convinced that she will succeed.

Truths can, over time, accumulate little bits of meaning, called "motes". They're sort of like experience points, but rather than representing a character's improvement they represent some truth's growing impact on the story. When a truth has accumulated sufficient motes, you have the option of upgrading it in various ways, such giving it ranks that can help you accomplish things with ordinary actions or gaining access to a special power.

Once per scene, you can earn a mote for a given truth by featuring it in play. This is a player-level action, so it counts even if, for example, the events that feature it happen for reasons out of your character's control. Featuring something is a little more than just using it or having it be present: don't just kill a skeleton with your sword, but do a cool stunt or show us how your comfort with your sword is growing.

  • Quallian has the truth "I read a book on that once." When she volunteers unexpected knowledge that she read when faced with a problem, she can add a mote (whether it ends up being helpful or making things worse).
  • Tslarc works on his cloud god sculpture around the campfire for several nights in a row. In one scene, his player describes the thought processes that go into the details he's adding. In another scene, another character tries to get Tslarc to join in a game of cards instead, and Tslarc refuses but has trouble articulating why he's so engrossed in his carving.
  • Bronwen has the truth I wear gloves to hide the feathers on my hands. Skikka, the character, doesn't know this, but Skikka's player does. After Bronwen falls in a river, Skikka's player has him suggest that she take off her gloves to let them dry, giving her the opportunity to refuse, leading to an amusing conversation and earning her a mote.

Featuring one of your truths in a way that reflects the themes of the campaign or genre or campaign or location properties can earn you an extra mote.

  • Tlarc's currently in a province which has the fact "Psions are heavily persecuted." Having a scene where he accidentally reveals a psychic power and narrowly escapes getting lynched can get him two motes towards Psion disguised as a sorcerer.
  • Saskia is in a campaign with a genre theme of "Using supernatural abilities to solve mundane problems." She can get two motes towards inexplicable internet connectivity when she sends an email on friend's behalf to apologize for them missing a date while they're trapped together in an alternate dimension.

Alternately, instead of adding a mote to an existing truth, you can give your character a new basic truth based on the scene, implicitly declaring "this means something". What it means may or may not be clear, but it clearly has some significance.

  • Phia, knowing the party will soon be facing the undead, goes to a temple and convinces them to bless several vials of holy water for her. She writes vials of holy water on her sheet as a new basic truth.
  • The party has a strange encounter with a small dragon-like creature. It seems to have fled, but Eric's player thinks it'd be more interesting if there was more to it than that. He writes watched by a pseudodragon as a new basic truth.

The flow of the story or character development may cause the phrasing of a truth to change over time. In general, a truth should be rewritten as appropriate for story developments. In some cases, this may cause ranks or other properties of the truth to chance as well.

  • Yolanda managed to steal three golden apples from a mystical garden. Over time, as she uses them for various purposes, her player rewrites the truth from three golden apples to two golden apples, and eventually to memories of golden apples.
  • Cirabel finally finds and defeats the ninja who murdered her master. She rewrites I must avenge my master to my master's soul is at peace.
  • Harnol has discovered how to unlock his draconic heritage. His player opts to rewrite mysterious background to draconic heritage, and he dedicates the motes on it to give it an appropriate power.

While by default new truths are basic truths, in some cases the circumstances of the story suggest that some new element that is not an evolution of an existing truth should have more concrete utility than that. In some genres, completion of a quest may often lead to getting a reward with mechanical weight. Other times, the fiction may suggest something should have mechanical weight in an ad-hoc fashion. In either case, the GM may grant free upgrades to truths (though generally the new truths still have zero motes).

  • The heroes defeat a necromancer and find chests of gold and jewels in his sanctum. The GM decides that, when they get back to the city, they can buy magic items with up to 10 motes worth of free upgrades each.
  • Kato steals a flyer while the soldiers who were flying it are distracted by giant insects. The GM lets Kato keep the upgrades the GM had given it while it was owned by NPCs.

In other cases, a new element may have its own existence independent of one of the PCs. It may be an interesting NPC, an item with mysterious unknown powers, or a place with useful resources. In such cases, rather than give a PC a truth with powers or other mechanical support, the GM may choose to make the element "self-owned", with its characteristics on its own card or otherwise in the domain of the GM. The PCs may decide to take a basic truth for their relationship with the element.

  • Lewis, after a dramatic series of events, ends up with Spring's Root, a long-lost artifact. While Lewis has the object and has invoked its power once, the extent of its power and how exactly it can be used remain mysterious. The GM keeps Spring's Root as self-owned, and Lewis's player chooses to take a basic truth bearer of Spring's Root to represent his relationship with the artifact.
  • Alice visits her grandmother and tells her of her situation. Her grandmother entrusts her with an ancient yew longbow. The GM could decide that goes on Alice's sheet with a free "tool" upgrade, or instead that it should be self-owned, explaining that while it has great power it will take time and experimentation to discover its potential.
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Not sure what happened there. Was looking at this post on my phone, must've hit some random keys on the way into my pocket. Let's try again.
This seems like an interesting concept, though there's a lot of mechanical detail left to be filled in.

I wonder whether it would play better if Motes accrued to characters instead of to specific Truths. There's some flavor advantage to the specificity if the main thing you're doing with Motes is manipulating (the corresponding) Truths. But having more counters can be annoying, and having a resource be more generally-applicable can also help players avoid painting themselves into a corner (e.g. a player doesn't reference a particular Truth very much, and then they can't make it more splashy in a way that would have them using it more).

Also, of all your examples, I feel that "I read a book on that once" is the weakest. It's a thing I commonly find a bit off-putting in tabletop systems that allow characters to have arbitrary traits that can include a quote or catch-phrase. It puts the focus on the thing that is said rather than the specifics of the underlying thing that is true (I mean, beyond it being true that the character says that quote, or people say that about them). With Fate I see why you often want to play it that way, since Fate mechanics are often about shoe-horning Aspects into as many situations as you can. But I think you can also get interesting things out of specificity. e.g. "I read a book on that once" could be:
- Has esoteric knowledge that comes in handy surprisingly often
- Seeks out obscure books and forgotten lore
- A world-renowned scholar
- Sounds like they know what they're talking about
- Their humorous catchphrase is: "I read a book on that once"

Given that these are all fairly different (describing a character that is esoteric but lucky, adventurous and obsessive, at home in the ivory tower, a confident-sounding bullshitter, or funny but maybe not even particularly well-read), I think that makes my point about just how ambiguous that sort of thing can be, compared to something more direct. And my opinion is that in the context of "basic truths", players should be encouraged to aim for statements that are directly true, as opposed to pure quotes.
Turns out Quallian is a rather poorly-developed character, and I wanted to come up with something for her since this was supposed to be related to Librarians? It's totally something out of a Fate catchphrase aspect, I agree. I think it would end up being more specifically developed in play. But also, it's a horrible example if this was actually going to be Librarians, because everyone's presumably read all sorts of books.

I'm not sure that Quallian's "I read a book in that once" is objectively less true than Bronwen's "I will find my mom", though. You could phrase it more truth-shaped-ly as "absurdly well-read" or "read every book in Gnosi" or something, dunno if that actually makes it any better.

(Talking stuff over with Sarah I'm not sure this super-general stuff is going to make it into Librarians, it might be a better fit for something like Dreampunk or the ill-defined Buffy/Persona/... concept, but who knows. It was useful to spec it out, at least.)

I don't like a general pool of motes, because then I feel like you get into one issue I have with Fate where it doesn't feel like it matters what aspect you use. I want Tslarc's time carving the cloud god to be wrapped up in the cloud god, not later end up getting cashed in to make him better at imitating a sorcerer.

There would be rules for abandoning and for outgrowing/casting off truths, which I didn't end up figuring out to include here. That'd presumably let you reallocate the motes. I'm imagining "Phia has on her sheet that she used to be a baker but that hasn't come up in months" or "turns out that having memories of golden apples is square, why were the golden apples ever a full-fledged truth to begin with".