Sunday, October 23, 2016

Character Creation in Rêve

Art by Rolland Barthélémy

There are fourteen primary characteristics for Rêve characters –
Size:  “overall mass”
Appearance:  “charisma and presence, in no way related to beauty”
Constitution:  “health, vigor, resistance to shock and disease”
Strength:  “muscular power”
Agility:  “overall coordination, graceful harmony of movement”
Dexterity:  “manual dexterity, eye-hand coordination and tactile sense”
Sight:  “More than visual acuity, this characteristic encompasses visual memory and especially observation.”
Hearing:  “Partly the auditory sense, but mostly the correct analysis and interpretation of sounds, as well as auditory memory.”
Smell-Taste:  “Detection, analysis and interpretation of smells and tastes.”
Will:  “force of will, character, courage, ego, morale”
Intellect:  “intellectual faculties...disposition to acquire knowledge and use it...[and also] memory.  It is in no sense...intelligence.”
Empathy:  “intuition, the ability to feel, to be spontaneously consonant with one's environment”
Dream:  “The faculty of dreaming and remembering dreams...It's a kind of 'Power' characteristic.”
Luck:  “how lucky a character is”
Players have 160 points to allocate among a character's primary characteristics.  The initial, minimum value for each characteristic is 6 and the initial, maximum value is 15.  The human average is 10.  Strength cannot be more than 4 points over Size.  We are told, “Only creatures and dream entities can have characteristics above 20.”  As an alternate rule, there can be a Beauty characteristic with a default value of 10.  This value can be increased using some of the 160 points; however reducing the Beauty score does not net additional allocation points.

Aside from primary characteristics, there are four derived characteristics:  Mêlée (average of Agility and Strength), Missile (average of Dexterity and Sight), Throw (average of Strength and Missile), Stealth (average of Agility and the inverse of Size [i.e., 21 – Size] ).

There are also a few values categorized as “Points & Thresholds.”  Life Points function as hit points; the number equals the average of Constitution and Size.  Constitution Threshold is “an indicator negative Life point level that equals death.”  It is figured by looking up Constitution on a table; values range from two to five.  Damage Modifier ranges from –1 to +2 and is determined by averaging Strength and Size, then consulting a table. Encumbrance Threshold is the average of Size and Strength.  (“As Encumbrance is often measured in tenths of points, do not round off this value.”)  Sustenance Threshold is the amount of food and water a character must consume on a daily basis.  It is based on Size and is either two, three, or four.  For each point of Sustenance a character must drink 0.2 liters of water and consume the equivalent of an “average inn meal.”

Endurance is either the sum of Size plus Constitution or the sum of Life plus Will, “whichever is better.”  The rules tell us, “Endurance may be lost due to strenuous activity (running, swimming), asphyxiation (drowning), weakness (starvation or illness), or trauma (wounds).”  Fatigue is twice Endurance and represents a number of boxes on eight rows appearing on the character sheet.  As rows are filled, the character suffers a penalty on all physical and mental actions.  Endurance loss also counts as Fatigue loss, but there are activities which cost Fatigue but not Endurance.  A complete loss of Fatigue causes the character to fall asleep; a complete loss of Endurance causes the character to fall unconscious and lose a Life point. 

Approximately seventy skills are listed on the Rêve character sheet, grouped into seven categories:  General, Mêlée, Missile & Throw, Specialized, Arts, Sciences, and Draconics (i.e., magic).  Discretion (which is described like Stealth) and Vigilance (“The talent of always being on on[e]'s guard”) are among the General Skills.  There are thirteen Mêlée skills – most of which equate to weapon use but also included are Dodging, Hand-to-Hand, and Shield.  There are eight Missile Skills – all of which are weapons – including Blowgun and Whip.  Specialized Skills include Commerce (“Evaluating the value of goods, services, or local currencies”) as well as Pickpocket, Riding, and various Survival variants.  Among the Arts, there are Navigation, Surgery, Swimming, and Gaming.  (However, Singing and Dance are General Sills; Acting and Music are Specialized Skills.)  Some of the Sciences are Writing, Medicine, and Legends.

Each category of skills has a base value (either –4, –6, –8, or –11) and each skill must be improved from this negative value.  “Level zero represents mastery in a skill” and while skills do not have an “upward limit...skills beyond +11 are exceedingly rare.”  Skill values are typically indexed against characteristic scores on a Resolution Table to determine a character's percentile chance of success for any given action.  For example, riding a horse would pair Riding with Agility but calming a horse would pair Riding with Empathy.  A starting character has three thousand points (!) to distribute among Skills.  However, all costs are in multiples of five so – hypothetically – the allocation pool could have been 600 points (which is still an intimidating volume).  Some examples of skill costs include:  'Polearm' at 0 would cost 80 points, 'Thrown Axe' at 0 would cost 100, 'Juggling' at –5 would cost 45, 'Running' at +3 would cost 120.

The Rêve character sheet has a section for “Peculiarities,” such as Age, Gender, and Handedness.  Also among the Peculiarities is Birth Hour.  In Rêve, each day consists of twelve hours; each hour has 120 minutes.  “The hours have been given the names of the constellations of the zodiac” and the “same names are also used to designate the months of the seasons.”  (These names are indicated in the graphic below.)  A character's Birth Hour is similar to an astrological sign.  It has some bearing with regard to magic and can modify Luck rolls.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Dream Journeyers

Art by Rolland Barthélémy

According to its glossary, “Rêve is a game of the Journey, a game of eternal quests: journeys by road, journeys across dreams, journeys to the depths of oneself.”  Most people in the Rêve setting develop a wanderlust “in their twenties” and undertake the Journey (thus capitalized).  Some return to their starting point; others, “having found a favorable site, may found their own villages.”  In fact, “most villages or towns of any importance were founded by former Journeyers.”  As a result, many villages have a Journeyers' House:
a kind of inn where, when the custom is observed, itinerant Journeyers are lodged and fed for free.  It's a common way of helping those who are still on the road, and of showing that even if the Journey is no longer in the legs of some, it remains in their hearts.
There are cities, but very few.  We are told that most cities date “back to the Second Age.”  Yet having survived the cataclysm of the Great Awakening they have been “significantly warped in one way or another.”  More specifically, “Whether it's a weird superstition, garbled legends, or absurd cults, each city is characterized by some folly or other.”

At the end of the Second Age, the Great Empire ruled over most of human civilization.  “Over the centuries,” the rules state, “the varied tongues spoken there eventually melded into a single language, with local variations in accent and vocabulary, but nevertheless a single, common tongue.”  Rêve intimates that 'Journeyer' – the common (human) language of the Third Age – is based upon the Empire's linguistic tradition.

A rift is a type of passage between two distinct dreams.  They “are never truly fixed” and the passage is one-way.  Rifts appear as “a colored flickering, a moiré in the ambient air.”  A violet moiré represents the open end of a rift and a yellow moiré represents the terminal end.

Page 140 states, “Player Characters are by definition Journeyers.” Actually, they are 'authentic' Journeyers:
...they have at least once had the experience of passing through a rift...As a result, they are not in their world of origin and they know that their chances of ever seeing home again are infinitesimally slight.
Aside from being a Journeyer, each player character is either a True Dreamer or High Dreamer.  The primary difference is that High Dreamers are magicians.  Since it is generally believed that magicians caused the end of the Second Age and are responsible for the ensuing cataclysm, “in many places High Dreamers are ill regarded.”  It so happens that, “In some cities, anyone even suspected (or accused) of practicing this crime [is] immediately put to death.”  However, death in Rêve is not the end of the line for a player character.

As indicated in last week's post, the death of a character means that the Dragon dreaming the character wakes.  The Dragon will eventually resume its slumber and the character will return (just not in the same scenario/dream in which the character died).  From the perspective of the player character, she merely wakes up in a new life and his or her prior existence seems as if it was a dream.
She may not be the exact same age as in her dream, is surely not dressed the same way, and may not even know how to do the same things.  But it is her.
Thus the character is reincarnated after a fashion.  “If the character dies again,” according to page 58, “she will awaken again from what she thought was reality only to realize it was a dream.”  Her characteristics will remain the same as they were in the previous existence.  If a given characteristic was improved by experience, the improved value will carry over to the next incarnation.  The character's skills, however, are reassessed.  A True Dreamer might become a High Dreamer in a subsequent life, or vice versa.

Each character has an Archetype:
A character's Archetype is his essential self, the sum of everything he has been throughout his supposed anterior “lives”.  The Archetype contains all of his acquired knowledge, his global memory.
In order for a character to be complete, his Archetype must be created.
An Archetype is created by assigning 'levels' to the various skills available in Rêve.  It is important to note that, “A character's current level in a given skill has no necessary bearing on a character's Archetype.”  However, if a character's current level in a skill is less than his or her Archetype's level in that skill, the character may be able to improve said skill via an experience method called Archetype Memory:
When subjected to stress, fragments of a character's former lives inhabit her nocturnal dreams.  These stress induced dreams are so powerful that upon awakening the character will recall actual experiences – and hence skills – of a former life.
Your humble host is reminded of TSR's AMAZING ENGINE® system wherein player characters are derived from Player Cores:  an array of dice pools that can be improved and used in creating subsequent characters in the same or another “universe.”  However, given the variety of AMAZING ENGINE® universes, Player Cores are limited to determining attribute values and do not affect skills.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

An Oneiric Fantasy

Art by Florence Magnin

Last month, I mentioned Rêve de Dragon, a game that merits some attention.  Originally published in 1985, I feel it qualifies as “old school.”  Of course, lacking any affinity for the French language, I must rely upon the English translation, Rêve: the Dream Ouroboros, which is based on a later edition.  (This translation is available at Lulu.)  Still, the setting remains the same and the setting is the subject of today's post.

The “reality” of the player characters is a gestalt of the dreams of Dragons (thus capitalized).  The rules employ the analogy of “collective unconscious” in describing the concept.  Each entity within the dream is an avatar of a Dragon.  “When a creature dies,” the rules state, “its Dragon (the one who dreams that creature specifically) has just awoken.”  The rules continue:  “Nevertheless, as this creature also exists in the dreams of all Dragons, the awakening of one dreamer has no other effect.”  Most entities are unaware that they exist as part of a dream.  Incidentally, in Rêve, the official title of the game master is “Dream Keeper.”

With regard to the Dragons, chapter 15 claims:
The Dragons are infinite...And if the Dragons dream the world – that is, the world from which the players' characters hail – they also dream an infinite number of others, like so many parallel worlds.
In game terminology, the word 'dream'...
...carries a double meaning.  On the one hand it means what is normally meant by the word dream, on the other it also means 'world', 'imaginary time or place', or 'adventure' or 'scenario'.  Thus by changing scenarios one changes dreams.
A 'world' might only consist of a region with anything beyond that region being part of a separate dream.  Thus, “the geographical continuity of...journeys [of player characters] are a mere minor concern.”

The history of the Rêve setting spans three ages.  In the First Age, the Dragons dreamed of themselves and also, “they dreamed a race of beings especially destined to serve them:  humanoids.”  These humanoids were usually either humans or gnomes, “but some more eccentric Dragons also created other avatars...”  Gnomes eventually discovered magical dream stonesthe tears of Dragons.  As a result, humanoids began to employ magic.  The Dragons did not take kindly to this development:
In order to rid themselves of this new nightmare, they awakened en masse.  The world suffered terrible cataclysms, and nine-tenths of all creatures died.  And thus ended the First Age.
When the Dragons returned to sleep, the Second Age began.  Magic became widespread:  “one in ten humans was a magician.”  Abuse of powerful magic caused rifts in the dreams.  Eventually, this led “to a crescendo of upheavals and raging cataclysms.”  The Dragons awoke again, ending the Second Age.  We are told that...
in the Great Awakening not all the Dragons opened their eyes at the same moment, some just waking up as others were falling back asleep.  There is some continuity therefore from Age to Age in spite of upheavals and ruins.  This is why, in the collective memory of humanoids, the 'Other Age' is still remembered.
Activity in Rêve is intended to take place about one thousand years after the onset of the Third Age.  “Between a few pockets of more or less autonomous civilization lie vast wildernesses filled with ruins and mystery,” the Third Age is described.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Where Fantasies Are Real & Reality Is FANTASTIC

My first exposure to Message from Space was when it played on a double bill with Superman so many years ago.  To some (many? most?), Message from Space is a gaudy Star Wars rip-off.  It's certainly gaudy and it would not have been made except to capitalize on the Star Wars phenomenon but, as Lex Luthor said that very same day:
Some people can read War and Peace and come away thinking it's a simple
adventure story.  Others can read the ingredients on a chewing gum wrapper
and unlock the secrets of the universe.
While my appreciation of Message from Space falls somewhat short of unlocking secrets of the universe, the film offers more than a simple adventure story.  If we divest ourselves of the 'spaceships = science fiction' fallacy and accept the film as fantasy (as the tagline indicates), the film becomes more palatable.  Message from Space was inspired – in part – by Nansō Satomi Hakkenden, an epic of Japanese literature and one of the longest novels ever.  The influence is especially noticeable with regard to what Joseph Campbell referred to as “the call to adventure.”

Message from Space takes place twenty years after the last Space War, during “the times when earthling adventurers roamed the planets of the galaxy seeking riches in the form of resources and colonies.”  The warlike, steel-skinned Gavanas oppress the enlightened Jillucians nearly to point of extinction.  The Jillucian patriarch dispatches eight holy Liabe seeds to locate the assorted heroes who will save the Jillucians – and the universe – from the tyranny of the Gavanas.

The Liabe seeds, with the appearance of walnuts that sometimes glow, make their way to the film's protagonists who, in another context, might be player characters.  However, the meaning of the Liabe seeds (from the protagonists' viewpoint) must wait for exposition from Princess Esmeralida.

If the Liabe heroes (i.e., player characters) are destined to save the universe, then wouldn't that compromise player agency?  Well, yes it would.  As a matter of fact, in Message from Space, three of the chosen characters toss their walnuts* and a fourth declines the honor of being a hero.  This is representative of what Campbell aptly termed “refusal of the call.”  Of course, a story about characters deciding against doing something interesting isn't a worthwhile story.  Eventually, the characters that initially refused the Liabe seeds change their minds and accept their roles as heroes.  So, player agency is still thwarted.  Is that a bad thing?  Not necessarily.

Absolute agency is untenable in a role-playing game.  A player adopts a “role” for his or her character.  After all, we are talking about role-playing games, not agency-playing games.  Agency is limited in that player character knowledge should be restricted to in-game information available to the “role.”  Also, the player imbues his or her character (or role) with a personality and a psychology.  The way a character responds to stimuli – while not scripted – should be consistent with that personality and psychology.  Gygax addressed this issue by penalizing “aberrant behavior” with additional required training time/cost for level advancement (DMG, p. 86).  Of course, for Gygax, a character's “behavior” should be defined by class and alignment.

The notion of consistency should not preclude the organic development of personality and psychology (or “behavior” to employ a convenient term).  Yet, ultimately, it is a player's responsibility to play the role of his or her character with an established behavior and to interact appropriately within the setting.  Likewise, some of the GM's responsibilities include providing an intuitive (if not immersive) setting and accommodating (rather than curtailing) player agency.

Your character should refuse the Liabe seed if the character's established behavior suggests that course of action.  However, there should be circumstances wherein your character would accept the Liabe seed.  Is it an intolerable suppression of player agency if the GM arranges for those circumstances to occur?  I don't think so; I think there is a difference between 'railroading' and 'advancing the plot'.

* not a euphemism