Thursday, 3 July 2008

More on Aspects: Dreamtime Points in OzCthulu

A while ago, in fact in my first ever entry in this blog, I made a post about FATE-like aspects for use in D&D - except with mechanics similar to the Belief Points introduced in The Planewalker's Handbook. (One of the best ever D&D supplements, by the way, now available for the criminally low price of US$4.00 as a .pdf from Paizo. If you don't own a copy - you owe it to yourself to get it.)

My idea was that instead of using the rather banal aspects of FATE, and the sledgehammer simplicity of the beliefs in The Planewalker's Handbook, it would be more profitable and interesting to base one's character's "Dynamic Facets" (as I called them) on quotes from Shakespeare. So that, for example, a character who had the Dynamic Facet "Not that I loved Caesar less, but that I loved Rome more" would gain points whenever he put the needs of his nation, tribe or clan above the interests of anything else - especially if it caused him trouble. He could then spend those DF points to improve the results of dice rolls in the future. Another example I liked was the Dynamic Facet "There is some soul of goodness in things evil"; a character who had it might gain DF points for, say, sparing the life of a captured hobgoblin in the name of trying to convince it to reform itself.

Anyway, this is a roundabout way of saying that I might include the idea as an optional rule in OzCthulu. (I really should come up with a different name lest people get the wrong idea; sirlarkins has already mistaken it for a mixture of Call of Cthulu and The Wizard of Oz.) Not by using the Shakespeare-quote thing. I still love that idea, but it doesn't really fit the mood of the setting. Rather, I'd like some way of emulating the effect that the Dreamtime (the parallel reality in Aboriginal myth) has on 'the real world' and, likewise, the way that 'the real world' impacts on the Dreamtime.

My basic idea is this. The Dreamtime is seen as moulding Aboriginal society's laws, stories, language, customs, religion and art. If it can do this, is it not just a short stretch to see it having slightly more concrete effects - by, for example, influencing the success or failure of an individual's actions?

In other words, I'm thinking that whenever a character does something in line with his or her own personal Dreaming (that is: character, beliefs, philosophy, spirituality, what have you) in an exceptional and extraordinary way, he or she could get a "Dreamtime point" which could be spent in the future to automatically succeed on a given dice roll. But the opposite could also be true; whenever a character acted against their own Dreaming, they would automatically fail a dice roll determined randomly by the DM (e.g. by rolling a d20 and saying that 'your 9th [or whatever number comes up] next roll will automatically fail').

The key, as I noted in my Shakespearian Aspects post, is that the DM shouldn't award points willy-nilly for simple things. A character whose Dreaming is I can never back down from an argument shouldn't get a point for just bickering with the other characters. Dreaming points should only be given when a character does something in the name of their Dreaming that runs counter to common sense and has a serious impact on the course of events. They would be rare rewards, given out maybe at the rate of one or two per adventure. I think they'd be a nice mechanical way to emulate Dreamtime beliefs, with the added bonus of not harming the simplicity of the ruleset. I'll do some more refining of the concept as I go, though. (The next target is to narrow down what I mean exactly by "a person's Dreaming".)


  1. The more I hear about this, the more I think, "Dang, if my group doesn't go for it, I should get one together specifically for the purpose of learning Labyrinth Lord so I can run OzCthulu."

    Barring that, next time I run a campaign with specific setting or tone stuff going on, I'll hand my players a list of campaign specific dynamic facets. (If only as guidelines for their own ideas.)

  2. I've never actually tried Dynamic Facets out in a game. It's just a theory at the moment that I'm aiming to introduce to a game at some point. But my old group used Belief Points a lot with Planescape games, and they really added another dimension. You were constantly thinking about what your character would do, in a much more natural and intuitive way than you would just be going on alignment.

  3. Actually that's an interesting point noisms, especially given the hard time many players have with RPing alignment.

    Do you think some sort of expanded belief point/dynamic facet system that covers a general outline of a PC's background and character could actually replace alignment and be a much more user-friendly way of dealing with the same kind of thing?

  4. terry: It certainly might, but then would it really be D&D? Alignment is such a big part of the game (or at least, it was). And it's good to have a non-mechanical, broad way of defining character attitudes.

    I think the danger of taking a belief point/dynamic facet system too far would be that it could lead to abuses - i.e. players creating beliefs/backgrounds/personalities likely to bring them belief point rewards, rather than for their own sake. There's a balance between a guide and a spur on the one hand, and an invitation to powergame on the other.

  5. True...perhaps there could be an overarching law/neutrality/chaos paradigm into which the belief points fit? That way the PC would still be following the general outline of D&D alignments, but have a list of more concrete examples about how his character applies this alignment to his actions?

    Just a thought anyway.

  6. terry: You know, that's actually not a bad idea. You could have a list of example beliefs for each alignment, although of course with the caveat that players could make up their own.

  7. that way the PCs would still have one of the designated alignments, but the belief facets would be a way for them to make the alignment more concrete and applicable to specific character actions (as well as being able to individually tailor them to their characters, so that not every Lawful or Chaotic PC would even necessarily react in exactly the same way to any given situation).

  8. This comment has been removed by the author.

  9. terry: I like it. It's definitely good to have a way of distinguishing characters of the same alignment and the way they behave.