Persona Development

The development of personae is a very important part of Kannagara. Personae get better at what they do, and gain new abilities. Sometimes, they even transform into something other than what they were.

Because this is such an important part of the game, there is an important principle that I want to respect. Any persona, at any point, can work towards becoming anything that the game makes available as a possibility to any persona. The change might not be possible immediately, and might be difficult, but it is always possible. Furthermore, this possibility is part of the standard game; it does not need a special exception of any kind.

Most existing games break this requirement. Ars Magica, for example, provides no standard way for a character with no ability to work magic to get The Gift. Similarly, a character who starts off as a faerie cannot become human. The reverse is possible, but far from easy. In Pathfinder, a character cannot easily change race. Even changing between classes is difficult, as the first level of a new class counts as a higher level, and the new rules for retraining, which recognise the appeal of this requirement, are outside the normal methods of advancement — retraining takes time, not experience points.

Of course, it makes perfectly good sense to break this requirement. If you have fantasy races, it makes sense that characters will not be able to change their race. Real people can’t do that, after all. That means that Kannagara will be a little artificial. Fortunately, I have supernatural powers available, and those will allow personae to make the necessary changes. Sex changes will be possible, but so will more important changes: humans can become kitsune, kitsune can become kami, and so on. Further, no change is irreversible.

That does not mean that all changes will be equally appealing to all personae. Some changes will build naturally on each other, so that once a persona starts down a path, continuing down that path will seem like a better use of time and effort. Similarly, it may not be possible for a persona to be a particular combination of possibilities at the same time. Kitsune are an obvious example. A kitsune is a fox who can take human form, so it is not possible to be a kitsune and a human at the same time.

New persona options will be introduced along with the ways in which personae can discover that they are possible. In that way, players will never feel that their personae would have made a different decision in the past. A player might wish that her persona had known about a certain possibility earlier, as might the persona, but it will never be the case that the persona did know about that possibility even though the player did not, and it will also never be the case that the possibility is no longer open to the persona.

There is a second important principle. Development should be part of play. That does not necessarily mean that the group will play out all parts of development, although they will do so for some. It does mean that development will not be abstracted, and that personae and players will make the same sort of decisions. Development in Ars Magica does follow this principle; characters make the same developmental choices as players, deciding what to study or research in a given season. Pathfinder does not; the details of development are abstracted. Kannagara will be closer to Ars Magica, but with even more emphasis on playing out character development.

Television Appearance Details

The page for my television appearance is online at last. It has some details about the programme, so feel free to take a look if you are interested.

The programme is half an hour long, and will be broadcast six times over the course of 24 hours on July 16th GMT. The times are on the programme’s page, and people in the UK should not forget to adjust for summer time; the 08:30 showing will actually start at 09:30.

So, how can you see it? This page gives instructions for seeing it on television. It does rely on you having an appropriate cable or satellite service, but the quality will be best if you can see it on an actual television. (Alas, a larger screen will be able to do nothing to mitigate the fact that I am in it.)

If that isn’t an option, you can also watch it online, on the NHK World homepage. There are also iOS and Android apps that allow you to watch it on appropriate devices.

Let me know if you have any questions about how to watch it.

Elements of Creation

The elements of a creation are the concrete features that the players know about, and that allow them to describe the creation in the game world. The elements will, obviously, vary depending on what is being created, but their game-mechanical role will be more constant, and so can be described here.

Concepts and embodiments include elements in the creation, one for each role. That is, the concept is automatically an element, as is the embodiment. A concept might be “the birth of a kami” while the embodiment is “a painting”. Assessment does not add any elements itself, but it creates the option to include more, by either adding a concept or revising the existing creation.

Each element has a description, saying what it is in the game world, and possibly a mechanical effect. The mechanical effect does not always apply to the process of creating the work; instead, it might apply to the effects of the work in the game world. One element, for example, might change the context of success, so that the completed work has a greater effect on a particular audience than it might otherwise. Another might give the completed work an extra bonus under certain circumstances. Some elements will be purely descriptive, with no mechanical effects.

Elements with no mechanical effects are available to anyone. They are the basic building blocks used for that kind of work, and if the work is something that the players understand, they can freely add this sort of element, making them up as they wish. If the players do not know anything about the kind of work in question — Shinto matsuri, for example — they can use the list of free elements provided by the game.

Access to some elements with mechanical effects is gained through actions in the game. For example, a single action earlier in the game might give the players access to a particular element, with a very useful bonus, for a later creation. I suspect that this will be a good source of advantages to give out for successful rolls. Other beneficial elements might be available to anyone with a sufficiently high ability. This will increase the benefits of high abilities, which is probably a good thing; personae with better abilities should feel significantly better to the players.

These elements will have two types. The first type is specific to a particular situation. They might give the players a bonus with a particular character, for example. If a character really likes strawberries, then including strawberries in the dinner a personae is preparing will improve her reaction to the meal. These elements will typically be discovered in-game, as part of the process of learning about a situation. The second type is general, giving a bonus in any situation. Access to general elements comes with increasing ability and discoveries made in-game. As a rule, specific elements will be available to any persona who knows about them, while general elements, even those discovered in-game, will only be available to personae with sufficiently high abilities.

Elements need not be entirely beneficial. Some might impose a penalty to the roll necessary to incorporate them into a work, or be incompatible with certain other elements. To keep things simple, elements with no mechanical bonuses attached will not have penalties or incompatibilities either. Those elements are simply colour.

As personae develop, they get access to more elements, and thus become able to create better works. They need to keep a list of these elements, and this will make the character sheet complex, but the elements will build up slowly over time, and so should not overwhelm the player. If an element is specific to a situation, there is no need to record it, because it will not be useful outside that scenario. (This is something to be careful about in design: an element should either be generally useful, or restricted to a single scenario. Players should not have to keep track of elements of restricted utility.)

That leads into the question of persona development. Development was one of the major themes I gave for the game; how will it work? As a central part of the game, it should be more than simply adding elements to a list. In the next post, I will start to look at this aspect of the rules.

Perspiration

Once you have the inspiration, it is time for the perspiration.

Embodying the idea seems to work well as a single action, with the result being compared to the difficulty of the creation. Now, I want revision to be a normal part of creation, so the first result should generally not be high enough to succeed. The easiest thing to do here is to just take the total of the first roll, and use that as the progress towards creation.

The next step is assessment, looking at what has been achieved so far. This is best done by someone other than the person who embodied the idea; it is a truism of creation that you cannot effectively assess your own work. Of course, it is not impossible to do this for your own work, just difficult, and progressively harder the more revisions you have looked at. This is probably best reflected in a penalty to the number of dice to roll, and this penalty should go up every time you try to assess your own work. Other personae get no penalty the first time, but after that they start to take the penalty, because they are also getting too close to the work.

The difficulty of the assessment should be based on the current progress towards the difficulty of the creation, so that it gets harder to see places for improvement as the work gets nearer to completion. However, it seems likely that the assessment and embodying totals will be about the same, so the difficulty should not be the same as the current progress. It should be possible to make progress even though none of the personae stand a chance of completing the work in one roll. A simple rule would be to double the result of the assessment roll, and compare that to the progress. If this total exceeds the progress, the assessment has succeeded, providing useful insight into the creation.

A successful assessment creates the option to revise the work. The revision roll may use the same total as initial creation, or, in some cases, might be different. To get the difficulty for the revision roll, subtract the current progress of the creation from the total on the assessment roll, after doubling. This is always a positive number for a successful assessment, because the assessment total exceeded the progress of the creation. Then subtract this result, the amount by which the assessment total exceeded the progress, from the progress, to get the difficulty of the revision. If the work has not made much progress, improvement is quite easy, and if the assessment is very successful it is also easy. The difficulty of the revision cannot drop below zero; if the assessment total was more than twice the current progress, the revision difficulty is zero.

After the revision roll, increase the progress of the creation by the amount by which the revision roll exceeded the revision difficulty.

So, for example, suppose that Yoshihiko rolls 6 and keeps 3 (R6K3) for his embodying roll. He gets 13. Aya rolls 5 and keeps 2 for her assessment. She rolls an 11, doubled to 22. That’s 9 greater than the progress on the work, so the difficulty for Yoshihiko’s next embodying roll is 13–9, which is 4. He rolls 11, which means that he can add 11–4, or 7, to the progress, for a total of 20. At this point, Aya and Yoshihiko are probably stuck, because Aya only gets to roll four dice to assess the work a second time, so her chances of getting over 20 are slim; she would need to get 11 or 12 on the two dice she keeps. They need to find someone else, ideally someone who keeps at least three dice for assessment, to make further progress.

A revision need not increase the progress. Instead, a revision may add another concept to the creation. In this case, the assessment roll is followed by a conception roll, rather than an embodying roll. The difficulty of the revision is subtracted from the points available to set the benefits and difficulty of the new concept, which will typically make this harder than just having a new idea. In addition, the difficulty of the new concept is added to the existing difficulty of the creation. Not only does the revision not increase progress, it actually pushes completion further away. It is hard to incorporate too many ideas into the same creation, but extra ideas do make the final product better.

This pattern allows several personae to contribute to a creation, but it doesn’t give the players many choices, and it doesn’t describe the creation. That is where elements come in.

Inspiration

What would make good mechanics for creation?

The first point is that it is important to make it possible for several personae to cooperate. In the real world, a lot of creation is done by individuals working alone, but even then, not all, or even most, of it. In a game, you must give as many players as possible the chance to participate. Obviously, the personae have to be able to communicate in order to collaborate on the creation, but that’s unlikely to cause problems. The personae don’t even need to be in the same place; I have worked on books with collaborators on four different continents.

The process of creation, in my experience, goes something like this.

Have an idea.

Write some words that capture the idea.

Revise the words, because they didn’t work at all.

Have another idea.

Revise the words to incorporate the new idea.

Have someone else read the words, and revise again based on what they say.

Decide the idea was terrible to start with, and go back to the beginning to start again.

The fact that it is possible to just throw an idea away and start again must be reflected in the rules. Going back at any point is possible. For some kinds of creation, there may be limits on whether you can rewind part of the creation process and restart from a partially completed work (you can’t stick marble back on a block of stone, but you can go back to an earlier draft of a novel), but going right back to the beginning is always possible in principle. In some cases, you might not have the resources you need to do so, but that’s something that stands outside the rules for creation itself.

There are four other basic actions in the list above. Let’s call them conceive, embody, assess, and revise. Each of these should be a single action in the game, following the normal rules for single actions.

Conceive is coming up with the idea for the creation. I think it works best if this creates an option. Specifically, it creates the option to create that creation. Let’s say that the conception defines the best that the artwork can be, and also how difficult it is to create. The player can trade these two off to some extent, based on her roll. If she really needs a brilliant artwork, she should make it difficult to realise, but possibly great. On the other hand, if she just needs a basically plausible story, but really, really needs that story, then an easy creation of mediocre quality is the thing to go for.

It is possible to add ideas to a creation later in the process. I do that in real life. However, for game purposes these further ideas should not be able to improve the established potential of the creation. Instead, they add new potential. If the first idea lets the creation have a bonus of up to +3K, then a new idea might allow –2D, or add an additional option. Adding a new idea should always increase the difficulty of the creation, and should increase it more the nearer the work is to completion. Throwing away some or all of the work done so far to get back to a point where you can add the new idea is, of course, an option, if you have the time and resources to do so.

My feeling is that there should be a limit on conceiving for a single persona. Ideas don’t just appear to order, and sometimes you need to take a break and get inspiration from somewhere. However, other personae do not run out of inspiration because you do, and their ideas might inspire you again. One way to implement this would be to impose a penalty to the number of dice rolled, while another would be to require personae to spend a resource statistic (that is, something like Confidence points, Willpower points, Fate points, or Hero points) in order to make a conception roll. I don’t have a resource statistic yet, but I think I’ll be adding one. In any case, this is also something to decide on later.

Having the idea is not, of course, the end of the process. The next post will look at the 90%, the perspiration.

Products of Creation

The products of creation are an important part of the game, so their description does not need to be particularly simple. They are, for example, as important as characters, if a little less important than personae, and so their description could certainly be as complex as a character’s description. In particular, a creation need not be described by a single number, and indeed most often will not be.

A creation that grants a bonus should specify the situation and the bonus. The bonus might be extra dice to roll, extra dice to keep, or a reduction to the difficulty. Those can be abbreviated as +1R, for an additional die to roll, +1K, for an additional die to keep, and –1D, for a one-point reduction in the difficulty. The situation might also be open to abbreviation, for certain standard contexts, but it should also be possible to describe it more generally. The rules should avoid restricting the personae’s possibilities for creation.

A single creation may have more than one bonus, and more than one type of bonus. In general, the type of bonus desired constrains how the creation must be created, but the details depend on what is being created. The players are often able to choose the bonus they want, and that affects the difficulty of the creation process.

A creation that changes the context should specify how it does so. This result will, I think, almost always be specific to a scenario, as contexts are not generally portable. That is, the same context does not normally arise in different scenarios. However, there are always exceptions. To take a simple example, a crash helmet changes the context of a cycling roll to avoid an accident, by reducing the severity of the injury the persona suffers on a failure. The change in context will determine the difficulty of the creation, and will generally need to be determined on a case-by-case basis. Guidelines will be needed, but the game system needs to be a bit more solid before I can start doing that.

Creations that create options also need to specify the option. That might be like a move from Apocalypse World, describing a single action that a persona with the creation may take. It might also be a bit more general, allowing a range of related actions. The difficulty of creating the creation will depend on the usefulness, and difficulty, of the option created. For example, composing a piece of music creates the option of performing that piece. A piece that is easy to perform, but has a great impact on the audience, will be harder to create than a piece that has the same impact, but is more difficult to perform. (This is perhaps not entirely realistic, but it is close enough.) Again, guidelines will be necessary, and will depend on the details of the game system.

A single creation could have all three of these properties, creating several options, offering bonuses to actions, and changing the context of a situation. On the whole, I suspect that it will be better if most creations are not that complicated. An option and a bonus, or a few bonuses, might be best. People do have to be able to play the game, after all. On the other hand, a whole campaign could be concerned with realising a single creation, and in that case it might be a very good idea to make the central creation extremely complex. The creation would structure the whole campaign, so making it simple would also make the campaign simple. The rules, then, should not place any restrictions on the complexity of creations, although they should naturally lead to relatively simple creations in most cases.

The next question, for the next post, is about the rules for the process of creation.

Creating Things

What rules enable the personae to create matsuri, or indeed anything else? Creation is a central part of the game, so it should not be resolved by a single roll. That would not give it enough emphasis in play. In addition, if creation were represented by a single roll, it would be difficult for players to use the rules, because they would have to come up with all the details of the things they were creating for themselves. Creativity is hard work, and one of the reasons for including it in a game is to allow personae to be better at it than the players.

If the game required players to fully describe the things that their personae created, it would be impossible for personae to be more creative than their players. It would be possible to have a persona with more technical skill, for example as a sculptor, than the player, but not to have a persona capable to creating a better concept for a sculpture. On the other hand, if the game simply describes the products of creation as “very good”, they do not feel real, and an important part of the setting loses focus.

The compromise is for the quality of the creation to be determined by game mechanics, but for the elements of the creation to be determined by the players. Anyone with any experience of creativity knows that a good enough creator can make something great from the most unpromising set of elements, so there is no reason to be sceptical about a high quality for a creation just because the elements sound odd or unsuited to one another.

The elements of a creation are determined by the type of creation it is. Creating something is an important part of stories in Kannagara, so game material will describe the elements involved in things that can be created. A matsuri, for example, includes mikë, norito, and kagura. There is nothing general to say about this, but I will have a lot to say about more specific cases in later posts.

On the other hand, there are general things to say about the game mechanics. The mechanics should be consistent, and based on the core mechanic. That is, creating something will involve rolling sets of dice, keeping some, and doing something with the total of the dice you have kept. It will not necessarily involve success or failure, because creation is a different mechanic from a single action.

Before the mechanic can be fixed, however, it is important to think about the end product. Creations are a central part of the game, so they should have an effect on game mechanics, as required by my general philosophy. There are three established ways in which they can affect the game. They can provide a bonus or penalty to actions, they can change the meaning of success and failure, and they can create or destroy options.

Each of these three approaches can happen in two contexts. In one, the creation is primarily created to assist with future actions. In that case, bonuses and penalties or creating and destroying options are most often appropriate. In the other, the creation is the point, in which case it is more likely to change the meaning of success or failure. Nevertheless, all the possibilities apply to both kinds of creation. For example, the point of a scenario might be the creation of a good relationship with a character, but that good relationship creates options for future actions.

In the next post, I want to look at how the end product might be measured, and then, after that, go on to think about the actual mechanics of creation.

Matsuri

Matsuri are the fundamental activity in Shinto. Indeed, a book recently published as an introductory text for people training for the priesthood is called “Jinja and Matsuri”. In contemporary Shinto, most matsuri are extremely ritualised and solemn, but some involve mobs of people running around the town with a giant wooden penis. There is a standard form, but personae have a great deal of freedom in designing matsuri.

Conceptually, a matsuri welcomes a honoured visitor, the kami. The people provide food, read a carefully-written speech of welcome, and offer entertainment, before the kami leaves again. The people may also ask for assistance, or thank the kami for previous aid. These elements all appear to go back to the very earliest times of Shinto, when the kami were not believed to dwell permanently in jinja. Instead, they were welcomed to the sacred space for each matsuri, and bid farewell again when it ended. A standard matsuri still includes the arrival and departure of the kami, even though, these days, the kami is typically believed to be present in the jinja at all times.

Before the matsuri starts, all the people and things that will take part must be purified. This includes both literal cleaning, and harae, or ritual purification. Harae is another central concept in Shinto, so it will get its own post at some point, when I am deciding how, exactly, to work it into the game.

The food and drink for the kami are offered right at the beginning. The food is called “mikë” (mee-keh), and the drink, which is always sake, Japanese rice wine, is called “miki” (mee-kee). The mikë always includes rice, water, and salt, but can also include any other kind of food. Many rituals have special traditional mikë, but it can be literally anything, including a box of chocolates. It is rare to offer the meat of mammals, although this is thought to be due to the influence of Buddhism rather than an original part of Shinto, but fish is common, as are birds. Any food should be high-quality, because it is being offered to a respected guest.

The speech of welcome is called a “norito”. Norito are written in ninth-century Japanese, which is different enough from contemporary Japanese to be hard to follow, without being completely incomprehensible. There are particular phrases that are held to be especially appropriate, and the norito are supposed to follow a fixed structure. However, they are also supposed to be written specifically for each matsuri. A matsuri that has been held every year for centuries normally has a traditional norito as well, but if you ask for a matsuri, the shrine priest may write a special norito for it. That said, most priests own at least a few books full of example norito, because writing norito is not an easy job. “Norito” is often translated “prayer”, and this is not too bad. The norito is addressed to the kami, and it should be written for the situation. However, many prayers in the Christian tradition are much less formal than norito.

The standard form of entertainment is sacred dance, or “kagura”. This dance can take many forms, and is thought to have originated in shamanic possession. It is common for the dancer to wear a mask, or to carry bells, and the music is normally based on traditional Japanese court music, or “gagaku”. This music has very different conventions from Western music. Drums, various kinds of flute, and the koto, a stringed instrument, are the most common instruments, and sometimes people sing. These days, most kagura is performed by miko, female assistants at the shrine, but the most traditional kagura is performed by priests, residents of the area, or members of a particular family.

A matsuri, as you can see, has plenty of room for creation within the basic structure. The mikë, norito, and kagura can all be designed to fit the situation. Creating a matsuri will be one of the central activities in Kannagara, and possibly the most common use of the rules for creation. Those rules will be the topic of the next few posts.

Options

The third possibility for the success or failure of a single action is the creation of options. Success on one action might make it possible to take a further action, while that action is not possible if the first action fails. For example, if a persona convinces a character to talk to her, she then has the option of asking the character questions. If she fails to engage the character in conversation, then she cannot ask questions.

If a single action happens in isolation, it should create an option on a success rather than removing one on a failure. Suppose that the roll does remove an option on failure. If the roll is optional, players will simply not make it. Why would they make a roll that cannot improve things, but might make them worse? If the roll is compulsory, then it is best thought of as creating the option on a success, rather than removing it on a failure. The players do not really have the option before they make the roll, because they have to make the roll first.

This is not true if the action is linked to other features of the situation. For example, a roll to avoid removing an option might only be required if the characters take certain actions. If a persona insults a character, the player might have to roll to avoid losing the option to continue the conversation. Alternatively, there might be a benefit other than the creation of an option from success on the roll. Telling a rude joke might give you a bonus to future rolls to deal with someone if you succeed, but remove the option of talking to him if you fail.

In general, however, rolls that remove options should be treated carefully, because they risk bringing the story to a halt. In a broad sense, the simple success/failure model is a version of this possibility, where the option lost is the option to continue the story.

The options created by these actions must be genuinely optional; it must be entirely possible to continue the story without them. The newly-available action might grant a bonus, or change the context, in a way that was not previously possible. Alternatively, it might allow the personae to tackle a problem in a different way, using different abilities. In general, personae do not have all abilities, and they are better at some than at others, so this might be a very appealing option. However, there should be a way to succeed that was available both before and after the roll.

These three applications seem to cover most of the things that we might want a single action to do, and I will use all three. Single actions either grant a bonus or penalty, change the context, or create an option.

This brings in a meta-rule. If a single action would do none of the above, then there is no point rolling for it. For actions that are possible for the persona, the player simply decides whether it succeeds or fails, no matter how unlikely success is. If the persona cannot perform the action, then it fails, and has no consequences. So, a player can say “Yoshihiko tosses a coin thirty times, and it comes up heads every time. He grabs the other personae to come and see, and tosses another ten heads”. This is possible, and has no impact on the story, so it’s simply colour. However, a player cannot say “Yoshihiko turns into a miniature dragon and flies around the room while he is waiting”, unless Yoshihiko has the ability to turn into a miniature, flying dragon.

This does mean that the same action might sometimes require a roll and sometimes not, depending on whether the outcome affects the story. That, however, is just part of playing a game.

Single actions are not the whole of Kannagara; creation is at least as important. Before I discuss the mechanics for that, however, I want to say a bit more about matsuri, as the creation of matsuri is one of the main things that players will use the creation rules to do.

Possible Results

How can success and failure on a single action affect the course of the game, without risking bringing everything to an untimely halt?

One possibility is for success to give the persona an advantage on future activities. She can still succeed in those activities even if she fails this roll, but she is more likely to succeed later if she succeeds now. Conversely, failure might impose a disadvantage. Obviously, these two could be combined, to create a really big difference between success and failure on this roll.

This solution has to be used sparingly, for two reasons. First, it is dependent on the possibility of success or failure on the following actions. At some point, there needs to be a task that is performed for its own sake.

Second, it is possible to build up so many advantages or disadvantages on early rolls that the final roll, at what should be the climax, is a foregone conclusion. While that might be realistic, it is not dramatically interesting. Sometimes, of course, the part that sounds like it should be the climax is really part of the epilogue, and the real climax happened earlier in the story. For example, if adventurers brave great perils to claim the Gem of Blasting, which then lets them destroy the army besieging their city, the climax is not the destruction of the army; the climax is seizing the Gem of Blasting. The destruction of the army is just epilogue. Even so, the excessive use of advantages and disadvantages can remove the drama from the actual climax. That needs to be avoided.

A second possibility is for success and failure to change the context of future actions. That is, what you get for success or failure changes. Returning to the Gem of Blasting example, successes and failures earlier in the adventure could determine how quickly you get the gem, which determines how much damage has been done to your city by the time you destroy the besieging army.

Building up a lot of context changes does not make the climactic event easier or harder, so it retains its drama. If it is done carefully, success at the climax is still much better than failure, so the players still want to succeed. However, earlier successes increase the benefits of success and reduce the risks of failure. Absolute failure at the climax is dramatically appropriate, and so can be permitted, but earlier successes might mean that even a failure at the climax permits a degree of success.

The problem with changing the context is that it doesn’t always make sense. Think again about trying to recall a fact. It is hard to see how this would change the context of action, and much easier to see how remembering a fact could grant an advantage. This means that we cannot rely exclusively on this option, either.

Fortunately, we are not required to do so. The core mechanic should be unified, but that does not mean that the meaning of success should always be the same. It is entirely reasonable for a success to sometimes grant a bonus, and sometimes change the context. I intend to use both possibilities in Kannagara, but also the possibility of creating options, which I will discuss in the next post.