Saturday, November 25, 2017

Gorgon Archer - Clockwork Dominion - Character Creation Analysis

Clockwork Dominion is a recent game put out by an independent group called Reliquary Games. The small group of designers have a small laundry list of degrees including theology, history, and other such things, making this one of the most thoroughly researched games I know of. On level with Nephilim or Pendragon though fortunately without the many layers of complexity those games suffer from. The game is meant to represent a steampunk setting with zeppelins, magic, and steam-powered technology and it does a good job. Among other things, the designers looked up real-life gadgets and oddities that occurred with the Victorian period and postulated one or two steps past that. 

One thing that stands out about Clockwork Dominion as a steampunk setting is that it actually follows through on the punk part of the name. Most settings that call themselves "steampunk" focus on the strange technology and magic but lack the societal oppression and moral decay that makes a setting punk. Instead, the usual steampunk setting would be more appropriately labeled steamfantasy. Not so in this case, the setting presents the idea of a grand celestial clockwork created by a supreme being in which all living beings are cogs and have a particular purpose. Working against this purpose can cause the Clockwork to fail and invite the Pontus into the world and begin to unmake it. However, while there is some truth to this, people in power use that belief to justify their own actions and crush the bulk of humanity down beneath them.

Mechanically, the most interesting part of Clockwork Dominion is its gameplay and especially its initiative system which is based on cards rather than dice. This isn't the only card-based RPG in existence, but it does have one of more simple and elegant systems of such games. The initiative system is also designed so that players may interrupt actions if they choose so that people don't necessarily have to wait until their standard turn to take an action. They were specifically looking to avoid the tendency in other games where people spend most of the game waiting for their turn to come around.

When determining the result of a test, you will take an Aptitude and a Skill, which are each ranked from 0-5, subtract a Difficulty and then draw a card which will have a value ranging from -5 to +5. If you have a positive result then you will have a success, the degree of which dependent on how high your total is. Likewise, a failure will result from a negative number with the degree of failure determined by the value of the total. There are also two special cards, a Fate card and a Doom card which confer automatic success or failure respectively. Since the deck is not reshuffled until the end of the scene or the deck runs out, you should never see the Fate or Doom cards more than once per scene.

All of your characters are assumed to be heroes in some form or fashion, at least at start. You're the disaffected noble who has noticed the corruption that has worked its way into his peers, the sailor who has seen the monsters of the Pontus firsthand, the witchfinder who begins to suspect that motives of her order, the worker fighting against cruel overlords or the scientist pushing the bounds of knowledge. There are two resources that a character has that help them in their fight against the Pontus. One of these is Purpose, which is your confidence that you are operating in the manner for which you were intended. The other is Ether, which is your determination to forge your own destiny. Neither of these is Corruption though the society assumes that those who forge their own path are working against the greater plan. Purpose, Ether, and Corruption are all referred to as Potential and you can only ever have a total of five points of all of them. Purpose and Ether both have positive uses in game while Corruption simply takes up one of your five ranks of Potential and slowly rots your soul.

The first of the ten steps in character creation is in choosing one of the four bloodlines. There are purebloods, which are a pure human untouched by any supernatural elements. There are the beastfolk which are humans who were subjected to horrific medical experiments which grafted animal organs to them. There are the changelings who are the descendants of the fae which are not necessarily part of the Pontus but aren't exactly part of the Clockwork either. There are the nephilim who are the descendants of humans and angels whose very existence is considered an affront to the natural order by some. Each of these adds to Purpose, Ether, or both. They also provide a bonus to one of the character's Aptitudes and two of their Skills. They also gain some blessings such as the pureblood resistance to magic. The creators confirmed to me directly that the fae would include the supernatural creatures of other cultures so this version of the gorgon archer will be a changeling.

The second step is to choose your Pursuit which is the main way that your character chooses to act against the Pontus. Each Pursuit provides bonuses to two Aptitudes and gives you either one Ether or one Purpose. There are six Pursuits each with four professions attached to them. The professions are not a mechanical part of character creation and are basically provided as examples of people that follow that sort of Pursuit. The Pursuits are Ambition, Discovery, Dominion, Faith, Industry, and Freedom.

The third step is to choose a Background each of which provide one point of either Purpose or Ether as well as Skill Bonuses and a number of Points to be used with Assets. Each Background also comes with a level of Class and Means which represent social status and wealth. The example Backgrounds include: Agent, Clergy, Criminal, Gentry, Laborer, Peer, Police, Professional, Rogue, Scientist, Soldier, and Vagabond. We're likely going to choose the Vagabond as all of our versions of this character have been outsiders living in the wilds. On the other hand, a member of the aristocracy with a changeling child who spends most of her time avoiding people in the wilds would be an interesting twist as well.

The fourth step is in assigning points to your six Aptitudes. There are two physical (Grace and Vigor), two mental (Reason and Focus), and two emotional Aptitudes (Presence and Will). All characters start with one point in each Aptitude, representing mediocre ability. Your Pursuit and Bloodline will have given you three bonuses to place into these traits and you now have five more points to spend to improve them as you desire.

The fifth step is to assign points to your Skills. Skills start at 0 but you will have gained bonus ranks from your Bloodline and Background. Some Backgrounds start with a lot of Skills, and some with only a handful. At character creation you can only raise Skills to a maximum of 3. There are also Skill Masteries but only Purebloods can start with one of those as one of their bloodline blessings. There are twenty-seven Skills and advancing some of them also provides bonus languages and literacy. As a note, the Firearms Skill also covers archery.

The sixth step is to purchase your Assets or take Liabilities. These are Merits and Flaws as per other games and work the same way. Depending on your Background you will start with somewhere between 1 and 6 Assets that you can choose. Some of these include increasing your Aptitudes or Skills and one allows you to increase a Skill beyond 3 at character creation. Unlike other systems that use such traits, these are not valued at varying levels. Each Asset or Liability is basically worth 1 Asset point. You can take up to two Liabilities and each such Liability allows you to take 1 extra Asset.

The seventh step is the assignment of three ranks of Affinities. These are short phrases that represent an intense loyalty or devotion to a concept, organization, person, or country. There is not a set list of these and you are encouraged to design your own. This operates similar to Aspects from Fate and it is better to take a flavorful statement such as "Honorable as befits the name of York" rather than simply saying "Honorable" or "Devotee of the Order of Carolingians" rather than simply saying "Christian." You have to start with at least two Affinities which would be one rank 2 and one rank 1 Affinity, though you can choose to take three rank 1 Affinities instead. Affinities work as weapons and armor in social interactions and can be used either for or against the characters as the situation changes.

The eighth step of character creation is in determining your character's Reputations. As with Affinity, you start with three points which you have to allocate to at least two Reputations. Also as with Affinity, these primarily affect your social interactions but more represent how other people view you rather than the motivations that internally define who you are. A character might have a Reputation for being a good Christian without actually having an Affinity related to religion, for example. 

The ninth step is used to determine your character's wealth and property. This is a fairly quick step though you are encouraged to broaden the definition of your character by thoroughly describing things like the nature of their home or the quality of their gear.

The tenth step is when you figure out all of the derived stats of the character. In addition, this is the point at which you choose the last dot of Potential. Your Bloodline, Pursuit, and Background will have all contributed a total of four points by this time and this last dot will be your fifth. You do not start with Corruption. Occasionally, your fixed Purpose and Ether might shift one way or another, but this is meant to be rare. The last thing you do is fill out some basic descriptions of the character and their personality.

Gorgon Archer

Countess Millicent Wintercrest formerly Sgt "Mills" Kellery
Weak-Blooded Trickster Changeling
Pursuit: Freedom 
Profession: Hunter
Background: Soldier

Class: 4 - Titled Nobility
Means: 2 - Small townhouse with one or two servants

Purpose: 2 (Weak-Blooded Changeling, Final Choice)
Ether: 3 (Weak-Blooded Changeling, Freedom Pursuit, Soldier Background)

Languages: English

Glamour: Weak-Blooded Changelings start with two Glamours for which they have enough Guile to qualify for.

Captivate - Your social attacks have the Entrapped weapon condition.
Hex - Force opponent to draw two cards and use the worse.

Unnatural -Weak-blooded changelings receive some acceptance in metropolitan areas but are still treated with awe and fear in rural communities.

Grace 4 (Freedom Pursuit)
Vigor 2

Focus 2
Reason 1

Presence 2 (Changeling)
Will 3 (Freedom Pursuit)

Physical Defense: 4
Guard: 1 (2 with Weapon)
Social Defense: 5
Esteem: Status Trait (Means/Class) - Tenor +/- half relevant reputation to encounter

Academics 1
Athletics 2 (Soldier)
Command 2 (Soldier +1)
Composure 2 (Soldier +1)
Firearms 3 (Soldier +1)
Fisticuffs 1
Guile 2 (Trickster +1)
Intuition 1
Melee 1 (Soldier)
Parley 1
Stealth 2 (Trickster +1)
Survival 2
Streetwise 1
Tactics 2 (Soldier)

Title - Countess

Higher Class x3 - Increase Class by 1

Well-Off - Increase Means by 1

Obviously Inhuman (Snakes for Hair) - Despite the many generations separating her from her inhuman ancestor, she has presented the clear sign of her heritage. No matter the care you employ, only supernatural methods will conceal your inhuman nature and you will be treated with fear or disdain at best, hostility at worst. You suffer a -1 penalty to Esteem in addition to other penalties imposed by bloodline.

Meddlesome Parent - One of Medusa's sisters has learned of her existence and interferes regularly.

Valor without Compassion is Blind - 2
I prefer to be alone - 1

Raised Among the Peasants - 2
Descendant of Perseus - 1 

The family castle has long been abandoned and Millicent is the first of her family in generations to choose to make her home on the grounds. When not engaged in active duty for the army, she lives in the gamekeeper's spare-room. The "servants" she has consider this most inappropriate and spin further rumors about how ill-fitting she is for the title. Legally speaking, Mills owns much more than her Means implies, however, in practical terms most of "her" assets are controlled by her father's various business partners.
Millicent Wintercrest is considered to be the final proof that her family is cursed. When one of the ancient gorgons stepped out of the fae to publicly declare the Wintercrests descendants of Perseus and Medusa, she was suddenly elevated from the position of being the bastard spawn of a love affair between her mother and a fae to being the solitary heir to her father's title and estates. Her father died not long afterwards and there are many rumors as to who might have done it. As he wasn't a statue, Mills suspects that her father's business partners were behind it. Since being suddenly raised to titled nobility she has been removed from the British Army's ranks to avoid the scandal of anyone of noble blood, but especially a woman, being less than a Lieutenant and not desiring to raise her to an officer. As such, she has mostly been living with her loyal servants and hunting on her lands.

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