The Ties That Bind

Attitudes are not quite the same as relationships. A character might really trust a persona, believing that the persona never lies and always keeps her promises, without feeling that he has any particular tie to her. If she tells him something, he will probably believe it, but most of the time he doesn’t think about her, and she probably doesn’t think about him. The same applies to most of the other attitudes, although it is harder to see how it could be true of love and hate.

In game terms, however, I want to make relationships into something separate from attitudes, even for love and hate. The relationship between a persona and a character is a single number, and it is the same on both sides. There are no default relationships, so even a score of 1 in a relationship is significant. In cases where it matters, the same number is used on both sides; relationships, in game terms, have to be mutual. That means, for example, that a persona who has a strong relationship with a kami uses the same number for determining whether the kami answers her requests, and in determining her responses to the kami.

To give relationships an impact on the game, I want to use them as bonuses or penalties to the number of dice rolled for other actions. If a persona is trying to help someone she loves, she can get bonus dice to roll, increasing her chances of performing at the peak of her ability. Similarly, if someone she trusts has told her that a course of action is the wrong one, she takes a penalty to perform it; her confidence is undermined because, at the back of her mind, she wonders whether she is doing the right thing.

While these bonuses and penalties emphasise the importance of relationships, requiring them for every roll would really bog down play. The players would have to decide which characters might be affected, and thus which relationships were relevant, for every action. That would take far too long. Instead, I want to borrow an idea from FATE, specifically its use of invoking and compelling Aspects.

If a player wants her persona to get a bonus from a relationship, she has to spend a point from a resource statistic. That gets one relationship as a bonus to the number of dice to roll for one test, as long as the group agrees that the relationship is relevant and appropriate. If no-one else thinks the relationship is relevant, there is no bonus, but the player does not have to spend a point. Similarly, the relationship might not be appropriate; if the relationship is strong, but the attitudes on both sides are hatred and contempt, the relationship cannot provide a bonus to attempts to help the character.

In this case, the player may spend the point after rolling the dice without the bonus. It might make more “sense” to require the point to be spent first, but I suspect it is more fun in play this way around. In addition, while a player can only invoke a particular relationship once on a given roll, she can invoke other relationships as long as she has points to spend. (Note that, if the player starts off with fewer dice to roll than she keeps, she will have to reroll all the dice when she invokes a relationship. If she started with more, then she can just roll more dice.)

On the other hand, another player can give a player a point to say that a particular relationship causes problems. The second player receives the point, and then can choose whether to take the relationship as a penalty on the rolled dice, or to abandon the action out of consideration for the relationship. Of course, this is also subject to the group agreeing that the relationship is relevant and appropriate. In this case, the relationship can be invoked before the player rolls the dice, because one of the options is abandoning the action. Other players may also invoke the relationship after the roll, as long as the roll succeeded. In this case, the acting player may choose to declare that she never took the action in the first place, or she may adjust the dice and roll again. If she started off with more dice than she kept, she will need to reroll everything, but if she started off with fewer, she can just roll additional dice.

I think it would be a good idea to have a limit on the number of points that players can use to invoke other personae’s relationships to cause trouble. A simple way to do this is to have it cost one point from the invoking player’s pool, but have it grant two points to the other player. Of course, players will need an initial score in the pool, but that is no problem. The precise nature of this resource statistic is something to be decided later. Next, we need to start looking at how personae can change attitudes and build relationships with characters.

Using Attitudes

The most important function of attitudes in Kannagara will be in social interactions. An atttitude will often determine how many dice a player keeps when rolling to see whether her persona can convince a character to do or believe something.

The simplest example is of a persona trying to convince a character that the kami of the shrine really did speak to her and give her a message for the character. The difficulty for this roll is likely to be quite high, as most people do not readily believe that the kami send them messages. The player rolls a number of dice equal to the persona’s level in the relevant social skill, because the more skilled the persona is, the more likely she is to be convincing. The number of dice kept, however, is equal to the strength of the character’s trust in the persona. If he really trusts her, then he is likely to believe her even if she is not generally good at persuading people. On the other hand, if he does not trust her at all, she cannot convince him. She doesn’t get to keep any dice, so she cannot beat the difficulty.

It is almost as straightforward when a persona is trying to convince a character to help her. In that case, the character’s love for the persona would determine how many dice to keep. On the other hand, if the persona is trying to get a character to do something because it will be good for the character, the character’s hope in the persona may be the relevant score. If the character’s hope is high, he expects to get benefits from the persona, and so it is easy to persuade him that doing something with the persona will be good for him. If the action has nothing to do with the persona, then trust is probably more appropriate; the issue is whether the character believes the persona when she says that this will be good for him.

Negative attitudes mean that a persona cannot convince a character to do things in that way. If a character loves a persona, but also doubts her, then the persona can get that character to do things to help her, but cannot convince him that she is telling the truth, in general. If a character actively doubts a persona, then he will check even if she tells him that the sky is blue.

If the action in question involves another character, then attitudes to the third character provide bonus or penalty dice to roll. If a persona is trying to convince one character that another character is lying to him, then the level of the first character’s doubt in the second would be a bonus to the number of dice to roll, while positive trust in the second character would be a penalty. Similarly, love is a bonus to rolls to convince a character to benefit the person they love, and a penalty to rolls to convince the character to harm that person, and the opposite for hate.

Sometimes, two attitudes might interact. For example, consider a persona trying to convince a character that she can do something unlikely, such as talk to the kami. Trust might seem appropriate, but in this case, that really measures whether the character thinks that the persona believes what she is saying. The question of whether she can really do what she claims is more to do with awe. If the character has high trust in the character, but no sense that she is special in any way, his reaction will be to believe that she thinks she can talk to the kami, but not believe that she can actually do so. So, in this case, awe would determine the number of dice to keep, but trust would provide additional dice to roll.

This means that someone having a negative attitude to a persona will almost always be a problem for the persona. The exception is fear, which would serve as dice to keep when trying to intimidate a character into doing something. Fear, however, also serves as bonus dice to choose to harm the persona when the character thinks he can get away with it, because harming the persona makes punishment less likely. On the other hand, if a character has a positive attitude to the persona, this is good for the persona. This motivates personae to build positive attitudes, which is one aim of the game.

Attitudes, however, are not quite relationships. Attitudes can be one-sided, whereas a genuine relationship is not. In the next post, I want to look at how to represent relationships, and at how that interacts with attitudes.

Measuring Relationships

One of the main themes in Kannagara is building relationships between personae and characters, including kami. In the section on matsuri, I suggested that the strength of a kami’s relationship with a persona might be the number of dice she keeps when deciding whether to answer a request. It is time to look at the mechanics for relationships in a bit more detail.

A relationship, by definition, has to involve at least two people. One of them might not know that the other has a relationship with them, such as when someone longs for a celebrity, but if there is only one person involved, it is not a relationship. Even so, certain aspects of a relationship do belong on one side: the way that each person thinks about the other. I will call these attitudes, and I will discuss them first.

First, because I want to keep the mechanics as unified as possible, attitudes will be represented by numbers. These numbers will be used as numbers of dice to either roll or keep. What will the numbers represent?

The first, easy, point is that higher numbers represent a stronger attitude. The next question is what sort of attitude should be possible. Attitudes can be positive or negative, but there are also several different types. Because the attitudes will have game effects, the descriptions should be chosen with that in mind. Each type of attitude will have a particular kind of effect. At the moment, I’m looking at the following list.

Awe: The character thinks that the persona has excellent personal qualities, and is worthy of emulation.

Contempt: The character thinks that the persona is inferior to her.

Doubt: The character thinks that the persona is unreliable, and will lie and cheat.

Fear: The character wants to avoid suffering harm from the persona, and thinks that such harm is a serious risk.

Hate: The character wants to cause harm to the persona.

Hope: The character wants to get benefits from the persona, and thinks that this is a real possibility.

Love: The character wants to help the persona.

Trust: The character thinks that the persona is reliable, will keep her promises, and will tell the truth.

These attitudes obviously form pairs: Awe/Contempt, Hope/Fear, Love/Hate, Trust/Doubt. It would be possible for a character to have high scores in both hope and fear for the same persona, but that would not be normal for the other relationships. It shouldn’t be impossible, however — a love/hate relationship is a staple of fiction, and it does happen in real life. Similarly, awe and contempt can go together, attached to different aspects of a person. On the other hand, high levels of both trust and doubt do not make much sense. You can’t think that someone will both tell the truth and lie, at least not easily.

The attitudes held by the two sides tell us about the kind of relationship. An entirely one-sided relationship, such as that between a fan and a celebrity, has attitudes on only one side, probably including awe. An ideal relationship has high levels of love and trust on both sides. A codependent relationship has high levels of hope on both sides. A bad relationship has a high level of awe, love, hope, fear, and doubt on one side, and a high level of hope, contempt, hate, and trust on the other.

A character would probably have default levels for these attitudes, which are applied when dealing with someone she doesn’t know. High default levels of love and trust make a good person who is prone to exploitation, while high default levels of doubt and fear represent someone who is paranoid. High levels of doubt, hope, and contempt indicate a manipulator. High levels of doubt and love represent a good person who has experienced a bad environment. High levels of awe, hope, and doubt represent someone with low self-esteem.

Right now, I’m not sure whether these traits will be used to describe how personae feel about characters; I think I might leave that to roleplaying. If I do, then these traits would be traits of the persona, not the character; the way that the character feels about the persona is, for game purposes, a feature of the persona. The default traits would be features of the character, of course, but if the persona has a score in either or both of the pair, that overrides the defaults.

The next question is how these traits are used: how are they converted into dice?

Matsuri Creation Example

In this post, I want to give an example of creating a matsuri.

There are two people working together to design the matsuri. Yukihiko is a shinshoku, but still fairly young, while Hanami is a miko at the same shrine. Yukihiko has norito knowledge 4 and norito skill 2, mikë knowledge 2 and mikë skill 3, and kagura knowledge 4 and kagura skill 1. Hanami has norito knowledge 1 and norito skill 0, mikë knowledge 3 and mikë skill 2, and kagura knowledge 4 and kagura skill 5.

The matsuri has to grant at least 3 shin’i to the kami, or it cannot achieve its goal. Yukihiko and Hanami really want a positive response, so they want to roll as many dice as possible when the kami is deciding whether to answer the request.

The first stage is to write the norito. Yukihiko will do this part; Hanami has a score of 0 in the skill, so she cannot help. He rolls 4 dice, and keeps the best 2 for his conception roll. He rolls 6, 5, 5, 2, for a total of 11. This is enough for a 4-step norito, because the conception cost is 10 (1 for the first step, plus 3 for each of the three additional steps). However, a 4-step norito would have a difficulty of 25: the base is 26, and there is only one point left over from the conception cost. Hanami cannot help him to revise the norito, so he has no chance of actually writing a norito to match that concept.

A 3-step norito has a conception cost of 7, and a difficulty of 16. This might be possible, but as he has to do his own revisions, it is likely to be hard. The mikë and kagura could provide a further boost, so Yukihiko decides to go for a 2-step norito. That has a conception cost of 4, and a base difficulty of 14. With the seven points left over from his concept, Yukihiko can reduce the difficulty to 7. That’s well within his reach. For the concept element, his player chooses “a long description of the mikë”.

He starts creating the norito. For the first roll, he rolls 4 dice and keeps 2, getting 5,3,3,1, for a total of 8. The norito is completed right away, granting 2 additional steps to the matsuri. They can be used to increase the number of shin’i granted to 3, and Yukihiko includes the embodiment element “yama no sachi, umi no sachi”, one of the phrases used to describe the mikë.

The next stage is to design the mikë. Yukihiko has the higher skill here, so it makes sense for him to do the initial design. However, this time Hanami can help him with the revisions. Because Yukihiko’s knowledge is lower than his skill, he rolls four dice and keeps the lowest three. He gets 5,3,2,2, for a total of 7. That’s a bit unlucky, and the matsuri is not urgent, so he decides to try again, for a different concept. This time, he rolls 3,2,2,1, for a total of 5. He doesn’t have time to keep thinking of new concepts, so he goes back to the first one.

Since Hanami can help him develop it, he decides to go for a 2-step mikë, with a concept cost of 4 and a difficulty of 14. He can reduce the difficulty to 11, so he might just make it in one attempt, if he rolls well. As the concept element, he chooses “seasonal vegetables”. For his first embodiment roll he gets 4,3,3,1, for a total of 7. He’s really not rolling well. For the embodiment element, he chooses “fresh onions”.

Now it is Hanami’s turn to look at the mikë. She rolls three dice and keeps the best two, then doubles it because she is revising the design. She rolls 5,5,2, for a total of 10, doubled to 20. That is more than twice the current progress, so she can reduce the difficulty for Yukihiko’s next creation roll to zero. She chooses “bright red tomatoes” as the element. Yukihiko rolls the dice, and gets 6,6,5,1, for a total of 12. The mikë are designed: lots of seasonal vegetables, including fresh onions and bright red tomatoes. That gets them another 2 steps, which they can devote to increasing the number of dice the kami rolls.

Finally, it is time to design the kagura. Hanami takes the lead here. Because Yukihiko can play the music, she can go for a two-person kagura, getting a 1-step bonus for including kagura in the first place, and a further 1 step for including kagura with two people. Hanami rolls for the concept. She rolls 6 dice, and keeps the lowest 5. She gets 6,6,5,5,1,1. That’s a total of 18. She could go for a high concept, but Yukihiko will not really be able to help her with the revisions, because he only gets to keep 1 die. She decides to go for a 4-step concept, with a concept cost of 10, and a difficulty of 26, reduced to 18 by the excess points. As her concept, she takes “offering a tamagushi”.

For her first creation roll, she gets 5,3,3,3,2,2, for a total of 13. She adds the element “accompanied on a drum”, but now she needs to revise her own work. This means that the number of dice to roll is reduced by one, which actually means that she rolls one more die, but still keeps the lowest five. She rolls 6,5,4,2,1,1,1, for a total of 9, doubled to 18. Her difficulty on the revision roll will be 8, because she can subtract 5 from the current progress of 13. The element she adds is “bells on the tamagushi”. For the revision, she rolls 6 dice and keeps the lowest 5 again, getting 5,5,4,3,2,2, a total of 16. The kagura is completed. Because the concept adds 4 steps, and the two-person kagura adds 2 steps by itself, this adds 6 steps. Combined with the two from the mikë, they have 8 steps, so the kami will roll 8 dice when deciding whether to help. A positive response is very likely — as long as Yukihiko can successfully perform the kagura. He needs 4 or higher on R3K1, so there’s a very good chance that he will succeed.

The matsuri has a norito that includes a long description of the mikë, using the phrase “yama no sachi, umi no sachi”. The mikë is mainly seasonal vegetables, specifically fresh onions and bright red tomatoes. The kagura has two people, one dancer and one drummer, and the dancer offers a tamagushi that has bells on it.

This is a simple matsuri, and has enough detail for the players to imagine what is happening when it is performed, and the personae petition the kami.

Matsuri Elements

The players need to be able to describe the matsuri that their personae have created, and most players do not know anything about Shinto matsuri when they start playing, so the game system needs to support the description. This is the most important function of elements. The elements are things that are included in the matsuri, and can be mentioned in the description. As noted earlier, elements come in two types: generic elements, and special elements.

Generic elements are simply ways to describe the results of the basic rules given earlier. Every roll adds a new element to the creation, chosen from a list, and there are two types of generic element for each skill: those corresponding to concepts, and those corresponding to embodiments. Norito concepts might be “a long description of the mikë”, “a poetic description of the jinja”, or “a detailed offering of thanks”. For the embodiment, the elements would be particular phrases from the norito, such as “Kakemakumo kashikoki Tamao Ohkami no ohmae ni”. For mikë, the concepts would be things like “a lot of seafood”, “seasonal vegetables”, or “various kinds of rice”, while embodiment might be “a whole bream with its scales on”, “sweetcorn and aubergines”, or “mochi rice cakes dyed red and white”. For kagura, the concept might be “offering a tamagushi”, “purifying an area”, or “offering flowers”, while the embodiment might be “a drum beat”, “carrying a sword”, or “holding flowers”. Putting the selected elements together allows the players to describe, in general terms, what the matsuri looks like.

Specific elements naturally serve the same function, but they also have a mechanical effect. One way they can work is to be mechanically better than the generic elements, so that the personae get more effect for a lower difficulty. However, this is not the only possibility. A conceptual element might allow greater benefit at a lower conception cost, but a higher difficulty than the standard possibilities. Embodiment elements might require a roll against a difficulty of 7 to incorporate, but add 3 points towards completion of the matsuri, no matter what the current value. If the current value of the matsuri is greater than 4, that is easier than trying to improve the matsuri by the standard method. Embodiment elements might also require some sort of roll to apply successfully, like the performance roll for kagura, but, in return, give a useful bonus if the roll does succeed.

Some specific elements will specify the bonuses that they add to the matsuri. That is, an element might always grant an additional point of shin’i, and not an additional die to roll. Normally, these bonuses count against the steps of improvement that the basic rules allow, but sometimes the improvements offered by an element might count as fewer steps, even none at all, or an element might give the personae a free choice of one or more bonus steps, beyond those gained under the normal rules.

Elements that increase the total for a creation regardless of its current level are particularly useful if the personae have added concepts to the creation after the initial stage. This normally adds the full difficulty of the concept, which makes it much harder to create the thing than it would be if the concept had been integrated from the beginning. The ability to add to the total even if the roll does not exceed the current total, however, might make this possible.

The discussion so far has only explicitly discussed the basic matsuri, making a simple request to the kami. However, the other types of matsuri can easily be fitted into the same framework. The other effects require a certain number of steps of improvement above the basic matsuri, and if there is no request, then there may be a bonus to the number of steps available. This extension of the rules is conceptually straightforward, so I want to discuss other elements of the game before coming back to it. First, however, I would like to give an example of creating a matsuri.

Creating Kagura

The important difference between kagura and norito or mikë is that it is possible to fail to perform kagura. Once a norito has been written, it is simply a matter of reading it off a sheet of paper, as shinshoku do not memorise most norito. It is theoretically possible to fail to read the norito, but that’s not a possibility it makes sense to include in the game. Similarly, once mikë has been selected, it is simply a matter of offering it to the kami. It is true that some mikë might be difficult to make, in which case it could be similar to kagura, but most mikë is simply harvested and offered as it comes. Kagura, on the other hand, must be performed, and it is not trivial to do so. Personae can only include kagura in a matsuri if they have someone capable of performing it.

There are a number of standard kagura. These are normally performed by miko, and require one or more performers. No creativity is required to add these to a matsuri, but doing so should still provide a benefit, because the personae do need to have trained dancers available. Let us say that adding standard kagura performed by a single dancer provides +1 die to roll when determining whether the kami responds to the request.

Kagura normally requires music as well as dance. The music can be as simple as a drum beat, or involve as many as half a dozen musicians. For standard kagura, the music can be provided by a recording, but if the personae have created new kagura for the matsuri, they need musicians as well as dancers. Each part of the kagura has a performance difficulty, and the easiest kagura have a difficulty of 4, meaning that they can be performed by someone with minimal training. The different parts of kagura can have different difficulties, although in standard kagura all the dance parts are the same. So, any piece of kagura involves a number of parts, each with a difficulty.

The base is that kagura with a single part of difficulty 4 adds 1 step to the effect of the matsuri. No creation process is required, because the standard kagura is simply added to the matsuri in the standard slot. If there are more people involved in the kagura, it gives a larger bonus. Two people allows a 1-step increase, while four allows 2 steps, eight allows 3, and thirteen allows 4. Beyond that, there are no direct bonuses. (Why thirteen, rather than sixteen? Because there is a traditional large-scale kagura involving eight dancers and five musicians.)

Adding steps to the kagura by designing a new kagura follows the same rules as for adding steps to norito and mikë, with an addition to take account of the difficulty of the resulting kagura. The creator may add one to the current total for creating the kagura by adding three to the difficulty of any one performer of the kagura. This should be done last, after all possible revisions have been completed, but it allows difficult kagura to have large effects. So, if the kagura requires eight people, the creator can increase the total by 8 points by giving each part a difficulty of 7. If the kagura includes a dance with eight identical parts, adding 3 to the difficulty of the dance adds 8 points to the total, because each of the eight dancers must be able to meet the new difficulty.

If any of the performers fail their roll, the kagura fails, and the matsuri loses the benefits of the kagura, although it retains the benefits of the norito and mikë. To avoid this possibility, performers can learn a particular kagura, which allows them to perform it with no chance of failure. This is only sensible for a standard kagura, one that will be used repeatedly, because learning the kagura takes time and effort. Just how much time and effort, however, is something to determine a bit later.

Creating Matsuri

What are the mechanics for creating a matsuri? Creating the baseline matsuri doesn’t need any mechanics at all; the shinshoku just copies the norito out of a book and does the basics. The mechanics, then, are for improving a matsuri beyond the baseline.

A baseline matsuri provides 1 shin’i, no dice to roll to determine whether the request is answered, and makes 1 request. It should be fairly easy to improve this, so that even a novice persona can create a better matsuri. So, personae who are keeping 1 die should be able to make a slightly better matsuri. For these personae, the maximum possible conception roll is 6, while the highest difficulty they can possibly meet during creation is 12 (because the assessment total is doubled). However, a difficulty over 9 is likely to be very difficult.

To provide a trade-off between quality and difficulty, I’m going to try the following mechanic. Each bonus has a minimum conception level, and a base difficulty. If a player chooses a bonus, she subtracts the minimum conception level from her conception total, and if she has any conception total left, she may subtract that from the difficulty. If the total is high enough, she may put more bonuses in, but that increases the difficulty. I’ll look at detailed rules for that later in this post, after deciding on the basic case.

So, to make things possible, the conception cost for a one-step improvement should be 1, with a base difficulty of 12. That means that someone keeping a single die can always come up with an idea that is better than the baseline matsuri, but it might be hard to implement it. A good conception roll could bring the creation difficulty down as low as 7, which requires at least one round of revision, but should be fairly easy to achieve. A 1-step improvement is one of the following: 1 additional shin’i or 1 additional die to roll to determine whether the request is answered. A matsuri that can make two requests is more than a one-step improvement.

A basic matsuri has two elements that can be varied: the norito, and the mikë. This means that a minimally skilled persona can, with a bit of time, create a matsuri that provides 2 dice to roll when deciding whether the kami responds, because she can get 1 additional die from the norito, and 1 more additional die from the mikë. Alternatively, the matsuri could provide 3 shin’i, but at the moment there is no reason why the personae would want to do that. Needless to say, there will be.

What about a 2-step improvement? This should be just possible for personae keeping a single die, if they are very lucky, and quite easy for personae keeping two dice. A conception cost of 3, and a base difficulty of 15, meets that requirement. A conception roll of 6 means that the difficulty can be brought down to 12, which is just barely possible. Personae keeping two dice, however, will often bring the difficulty down under 12, which means that they could create the element without any revision.

So, what about 3 steps? A conception cost of 6 and a base difficulty of 18 would make an easy pattern. This should be straightforward for personae keeping two dice, and easy for personae keeping three. It is, however, impossible for personae keeping one die. They might be able to have the idea, just, but the difficulty is out of reach. It might be better to step the conception cost up a bit higher, however, to make it impossible for the weakest characters to even think of this. A conception cost of 7 has that effect. This is average for someone rolling and keeping two dice.

This provides a good guideline for the conception cost. Every additional die kept should make two new conception levels possible. That would mean a conception cost of 10 for 4 steps, and 13 for 5. A pattern of starting at 1, and adding three for every additional step, works well, but it means that the base difficulties need to be revised to keep a 2-step improvement barely possible for single die personae, as they will only be able to reduce the base difficulty by two points.

A simple analogy with the conception cost would be to start at 8, and add 6 for every additional step. Thus, a 1-step improvement would have a conception cost of 1, and a difficulty of 8. This is well within the capacity of personae with a single die to keep. A 2-step improvement has a conception cost of 4, and a difficulty of 14. This is just possible for personae with a single die, and fairly easy for personae with 2. A 3-step improvement has a conception cost of 7, and a difficulty of 20. This should be possible for personae keeping 2 dice, but it is impossible for personae who only keep 1. A 4-step improvement has a conception cost of 10, and a difficulty of 26. This is hard for personae with 2 dice to keep, but straightforward for those with 3.

This pattern will do for a first draft for norito and mikë, but kagura is a little different, and will be the topic of the next post.

Matsuri Mechanics

It is time to start getting specific about the mechanics for matsuri. In the real world, most matsuri at jinja follow a fixed pattern. The participants are purified, standard miki and mikë are offered, and the shinshoku reads a standard norito, copied out of a book of norito. Such a matsuri will be the baseline, because any shinshoku could do this, with no chance of failure. I could do this with no chance of failure. So, this sort of matsuri grants the kami 1 point of shin’i, and makes a request. It does nothing to incline the kami to answer the request.

How does the kami decide whether to respond? The obvious mechanic is to have the kami roll a number of dice depending on the details of the matsuri, and keep a number equal to the strength of the highest relevant interest. A baseline matsuri provides no dice to roll, which means that the players roll twice as many dice as the level of the interest, and keep the lowest ones. Better matsuri provide more dice to roll. The difficulty for this roll, on the other hand, depends on the details of the request, and on the kami’s attitude to those details.

This means that it makes a lot of sense to go to a kami with an interest in a topic, or in you, even if there are other, more powerful, kami. The more powerful kami is likely to not answer your request at all. A weaker but interested kami, on the other hand, will do something for you. Still, we need to look at the question of what happens when the kami decides not to act. As mentioned earlier, “nothing happens” is not a good result from a die roll.

Although I want to avoid that sort of situation in general, I think I might keep it as the result of a failure on a baseline matsuri. Performing a matsuri out of a book shows that the personae are not investing much effort into the matsuri, so it is not an important part of the story. For a minor event, it is reasonable to simply say that nothing happens.

If the personae have put effort into the matsuri, however, things should be different. If the personae have made the effort to personalise and improve the matsuri, the kami provides instructions on what the petitioner should do to have her request fulfilled. These instructions would normally come in a dream, because that is the only way a kami can communicate with most people, but they might also come through divination, and a kannagi could be told directly. The more effort the personae put into the matsuri, the clearer and easier these instructions become. This is not just a game balance feature; it makes sense that a carefully-designed matsuri would get closer to convincing a kami to act than one slightly modified from the book, so that the personae need to add less to the matsuri to get a response.

If the kami decides to respond, she spends the shin’i, rolls the relevant interest, and keeps a number of dice dependent on her score in the relevant power. Something happens, but what happens depends on the result of the roll; the higher, the better. For a baseline matsuri, the kami will only use one power, but a more elaborate matsuri might make two or more requests. This would normally increase the difficulty to convince the kami to act, and it might be easier to perform two separate matsuri. A single matsuri, however, can only appeal to one of the nigimitama or aramitama; if the petitioner wants effects from both mitama, at least two matsuri are required. As mentioned in the last post, a matsuri might also grant the kami a bonus to these rolls.

It’s time to start putting some numbers onto these mechanics. These numbers are entirely preliminary, and are very likely to be changed as the rest of the mechanics get created, but we need to start somewhere.

Let’s say that the difficulty of convincing a kami to respond to a standard request is 4. If the kami has an interest in the topic, and so is keeping four dice, a response is guaranteed, even from a standard matsuri. There is simply no way to get less than 4 when keeping four dice. Ultimately, this number should be set to match the level of interest that characterises a kami with a particular interest in a topic; Tenjin’s interest in examinations, for example, or Inari’s interest in commercial prosperity. Performing a matsuri to ask such a kami to help is guaranteed a response.

What is the default effect? The effect will, obviously, vary a great deal depending on the nature of the request, but there is a good candidate for a default position. The kami can grant the petitioner more dice to roll. Having more dice to roll does not allow you to perform outside your normal range, but it does mean that you will, on average, do better within that range than you would otherwise. This works best for the nigimitama, particularly for prosperity, but that is possibly the most common petition. For the numbers, we can say that the kami grants one bonus die, plus one for every full three points of the total. That is, if the total is 1 or 2, the petitioner gets one bonus die, if it is 3, 4, or 5, the petitioner gets two, if it is 6, 7, or 8, the petitioner gets three, and so on. Every additional die that the kami keeps increases the maximum number of bonus dice by two. Each of these bonus dice can be used once, and personae get to decide when to use them. They can only be used on the activity for which the matsuri requested support, but otherwise they are under the control of the player.

There will need to be a lot of other possible effects for granted petitions, but this one can be applied to many situations, and gives us something concrete to look at when we turn to look at the parts of a matsuri.

Matsuri Effects

In the early stages of the game, matsuri are the main way in which personae can influence kami. If they are not kannagi, personae can only speak directly to the kami when they are all in kamikakushi, which is, by default, a relatively rare situation. The way in which matsuri influence kami is, therefore, a very important part of the game. Much of what personae do will be the creation and performance of matsuri, in order to have an influence on the kami. Matsuri creation and performance will, I think, have the same place in the game as combat holds in a typical RPG.

The first effect of matsuri was mentioned a couple of posts ago: they give a kami shin’i. The number of points of shin’i that a matsuri grants to the kami will be an important feature, and one of the aspects decided during the process of creating the matsuri. In mechanical terms, creating the matsuri creates the option of performing the matsuri to give the kami that many points of shin’i.

The second obvious effect of a matsuri is that it should persuade the kami to do what the personae want. Kami are not machines, and may decide to deny requests. In real-world Shinto, this is not a possibility to which shinshoku draw much attention, but it is officially acknowledged. Here, the matsuri is a way to ask the kami to do something, and may grant bonuses to the roll to see whether the kami is persuaded. These bonuses would be something else designed into the matsuri.

For a standard matsuri that makes a request of the kami, these two points are all that is necessary. However, this is not all that a matsuri can do.

Some matsuri do not make any specific requests. The annual grand matsuri of a jinja is a good example; although the norito includes a general request that the kami look after the jinja and the ujiko, there is nothing specific that the kami is asked to do. There are some matsuri, such as matsuri thanking the kami for previous help, that literally make no requests, and others that simply announce a gift to the kami. These matsuri serve, in the game, as a good way for personae to strengthen their relationship with the kami, which makes it more likely that the kami will be able to grant their requests.

The other interests of a kami could also be strengthened through matsuri. A very common form of matsuri in Japan involves the kami being carried around the ujiko area in a mikoshi, a portable shrine based on the palanquins used by emperors in ancient Japan. This matsuri is supposed to strengthen the link between the kami and the ujiko, and in game terms that means increasing her interest in the ujiko. More abstract fields could also be strengthened in a similar way; a matsuri including scholarship might be used to increase a kami’s interest in scholarship, for example.

It should also be possible to perform matsuri to make a kami more powerful. In particular, kami who are characters rather than personae will not change or develop without the intervention of the personae. These matsuri should be significantly harder than request matsuri, and probably only work once. In the real world, request matsuri are repeated, so this should be reflected in the game, but matsuri to make the kami stronger are not an explicit part of real-world Shinto, or, at any rate, not one that I have yet come across, so I can design them with more concern for game balance. If the same matsuri can be performed repeatedly to increase the power of a kami, kami will get very powerful very quickly, which is not really what I want. Therefore, a matsuri that increases the power of the kami only has that effect once.

This increase in power could take two forms. First, the matsuri might grant a bonus to the kami for the request made in the matsuri. Second, the matsuri might grant the kami points towards increasing one of her powers. The first type of matsuri should be easier, as it is a temporary bonus rather than a permanent one. The second type should be significantly harder, and probably requires the personae to use particular elements to improve the matsuri.

That brings us back to the question of the elements of a matsuri. What are they, and how do they work in game terms? That will be the next post.

Tamao

Tamao is the main kami in, er, Tamao. The title of the novel is a bit of a giveaway there. I wrote the novel four years ago, so I didn’t design him in terms of these rules, but I should be able to do it retrospectively. In addition, this example should make sense even to people who haven’t read the novel (and at the moment it is not available to read, although that may change — and if you do want to read it, this post contains minor spoilers).

The first step, deciding on shin’i, is very easy. Tamao is a character, because Akiko is the protagonist and thus a persona, and therefore Tamao has no shin’i unless the personae give it to him.

The next step is to think about Tamao’s powers. Under the nigimitama he has, like all kami, wisdom, healing, protection, and prosperity. Under the aramitama, he has inspiration, destruction, creation, and transformation. The nigimitama and aramitama are treated separately in the novel, so I’ll look at the nigimitama first.

Tamao uses wisdom a lot, to give Akiko dreams and visions. He also uses healing, to purify people and places, although in the end the aramitama has to complete the purification. He seems to be bad at protection and prosperity, however; that is why the area around the jinja is suffering so much. So, wisdom should be the highest, followed by healing, with protection and prosperity both quite low. Let’s say wisdom 4, healing 3, protection 1, and prosperity 1. Four dice to keep should be a decent number, because we don’t want to be rolling more than ten dice as a matter of course.

What about the aramitama? Inspiration is not a major feature of the story, but creation (the hot spring and feather cloak) does play a role. Transformation is also important, particularly if we include kamikakushi in transformation, and destruction seems to be the appropriate ability to cover the purification efforts of the aramitama. (This is a reminder that I really need to work out how purification fits into the game, because it is an absolutely central part of Shinto practice.) So, I’ll give Tamao a score of 1 in inspiration, meaning that he is good at seeing what is wrong, but bad at working out how to fix it. That fits the plot of the novel quite well, really. A score of 2 in creation, and 4 each in transformation and destruction, seem to fit the description, although transformation might be a bit lower. The problem in the novel, in these terms, was giving Tamao’s aramitama enough shin’i to perform the purification of the area.

Next, we need to define his interests. His interest in the keidai should be the highest, and I’ll set that at 6. The ujiko have neglected him a bit, so I’ll set that interest at 2. What other general interests does he have? The most striking themes are water and storms, although as he appears as a snake, that would be another reasonable interest. Let’s say that he has an interest of 5 in storms, and of 3 in snakes. The hot spring is not a storm, but it is within the keidai, so Tamao can use his interest in the keidai to create it.

Tamao’s specific relationships start with Akiko. His relationship with her gets closer over the course of the novel, but seems to start quite high. Let’s call it 5. He should have at least as close a relationship with Revd Shiraishi, and there are some scenes that suggest it is closer, so we can set that at 6. Akiko seems to have become a kannagi very early in the novel, while Revd Shiraishi is probably still not one at the end, but there are signs that Tamao is still closer to the hereditary priest of his shrine. (The end of the novel does not really work in game terms, at least not at the moment, but then, it is not actually a novel set in this game world.) Finally, Tamao has a close relationship with Kazumi, but not as close as with the other two. That can be set at 4.

Tamao’s description in game terms, then, looks like this.

Nigimitama
Wisdom 4
Healing 3
Protection 1
Prosperity 1

Aramitama
Inspiration 1
Creation 2
Destruction 4
Transformation 4

Interests
Keidai 6
Ujiko 2
Storms 5
Snakes 3
Reiko Shiraishi 6
Akiko Tanahata 5
Kazumi Miura 4

We do not, yet, have any rules for actually using these numbers, but that will come soon. The next stage is to look at matsuri, and how they interact with the kami.