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Design Diary: Quintessence of Dust

Dear Design Diary,
While I was away for Thanksgiving, thanks to the unflagging support of Kainenchen, I started working with some ideas for a new fantasy roleplaying system for tabletop. I particularly want something that borrows a bit more from the style and substance of LARPing, without sacrificing usability. When I've considered such an idea before, that's what has stopped me, but I've had a few new ideas, and this time out I have a blog.
Let me start by laying out my goals in more detail.

Until further notice, I'm calling this game "Quintessence of Dust," as the title of the post might have led you to believe.

These ideas still need more work, but these goals represent a start. I'll be posting in greater detail as I work through things; that work will be intermittent, as time and motivation allow. If any of these ideas strike you, the floor is open for discussion. Below the cut: where I am with ritualism ideas right now.


As some background - here is the link to how ritualism works in DtD. It works well with the way a single event covers a little more than 30 hours of real time, and players have a pretty decent amount of spare time to conduct spell preparation. On the other hand, most tabletop games are 2-4 hours long, though some campaigns schedule around less-frequent 8-12 hour sessions. Performing a DtD-style ritual for every spell would mean that the party spent most of the session waiting on the ritualist to finish preparing.

Consequently, I'd like to boil the rituals down to just a few bones. See, I originally got the idea that developed into ritualism from a game called Noumenon, so I'm thinking of trending back toward that source. During spell preparation, ritualists draw a base of three domino bones (from a double-six set) and try to make matches (straight line, T intersection, triangle). The ritualist can also spend Fatigue to draw extra bones and make more matches - though this decision must be made before the ritualist starts work on the spell.

Once the player has created as many legal intersections as he (feels he can) manage, the player checks his spell description to figure out the spells now stored in his focus. For example:

The Rune of Threefold Flame
Initiation cost: 0 Fatigue
0 matches: 1 Fatigue, 1 Fire Dart (magic attack, 2d4 + modifier damage to one target)
1 match: 1 Fatigue, 3 Fire Darts (each of which takes one action to cast)
2 matches: 0 Fatigue, 2 Fire Darts or 1 Fatigue, 2 Fire Arrows (magic attack, 3d6 + modifier damage to one target)

The Bloodmark of Tempest's Rage
Initiation cost: 1 Fatigue
0 matches: 0 Fatigue, no activations (because more powerful spells have tougher backlashes)
1 match: 2 Fatigue, 1 Storm Lance (magic attack, 3d10 + modifier damage to one target)
2 matches: 1 Fatigue, 1 Storm Lance 
3 matches: 1 Fatigue, 3 Storm Lances

If a party has more than one ritualist (including homunculi or NPC apprentices), those characters can contribute through some TBD means. Other spells include a variety of complicating factors that can still be quickly resolved as part of spell prep: Fatigue cost to initiate the spell, material components of some kind to alter the outcome, and a variety of punitive backlashes. One of the things that I like about this model is that it obscures the precise balance of individual spells, making the choice of spells less clear-cut for the player. There can be several different spells that create Fire Dart effects in varying numbers and at varying costs.

Alternate Model

For times when a set of double-six domino bones aren't available, try this simplified version (ruthlessly stolen from the One-Roll Engine). For every bone you would otherwise draw, roll 2d8. (If d7s are in your repertoire, feel free to go with d7-1 to imitate the range of a double-six set.) Roll each 2d8 together, and treat the result as a single bone (thus, a roll of 2d8 comes up 2, 4 - don't add them together, but treat them as a draw of 2/4). This tampers with the odds in ways that both benefit and hinder the player, but I'm guessing it would wind up being a wash.

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