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52 Pick Up: A new game very week

EPISODE 7: SoulDriver

Gareth-Michael Skarka
March 22, 2001
Seven of Spades

If I were to try to pitch SoulDriver as a movie or television project, the short-hand description that I would hit the producers with would be a doozy:

"Kung-Fu Warlords engaged in power struggles in a poisoned afterlife where the most valuable commodity is Souls."

Or, I'd say: "Road Warrior meets Mortal Kombat meets What Dreams May Come."

Or, perhaps: "Post-apocalyptic horror-fantasy Kung-Fu Action."

Then, after I was bodily thrown out of their offices.  I'd spend a little time trying to pick up their very attractive receptionist.

But, that's neither here nor there.  I'm not trying to pitch SoulDriver as a movie.  I'm trying to pitch it as a game, to you fine folks.  So, hang on tight... here we go.

The Land of Tessus was once, legend has it, the eternal afterlife (maybe even the afterlife of your own campaign world, regardless of game).  It was the Happy Hunting Grounds, Paradise, Elysium, Valhalla... the land of the Blessed Dead, where the souls of heroes went upon their deaths, their eternal reward for the lives that they had lived.

But that was long ago... or perhaps it never was.  Perhaps it is the sweet lie that the denizens of Tessus tell themselves so that they can sleep at night.  So that they can convince themselves that the battle-ravaged hell that is their homeland hasn't always been thus.  That there was once something better... something noble... and perhaps there is hope that there can be such a place again, someday.

Tessus is a proving ground... to eke out an existence amongst its scrublands and blasted deserts, or in its desperate and overcrowded settlements, is to test your mettle day in and day out.  Only the strong and cunning survive, and of them, only the ruthless prosper.

The land is divided into regions that are held under the thrall of powerful Warlords.  Each Warlord maneuvers and plots against his neighbors, but so far all have managed to keep each other in check, with none rising in power enough to unite the land under their rule.  Each Warlord runs his region differently... some are the equivalents of kingdoms, with the Warlord levying taxes and possessing a standing army, while others are lawless regions where the Warlord raids the settlements with his band of followers.

People come to Tessus when they die in other realms (Which could be a nice way to pick up this game...kill off your player characters in another game and have them awaken in Tessos).  Each individual is a Soul, and souls range in power.  The most powerful Souls wield fantastic powers of magic... but the spectrum swings the other way as well.  The weakest souls, known as Shades, are not even able to maintain physical form.  However, they do make excellent slaves.

Shades are traded... an item of commodity, for they can be bound into objects and devices, and that serves as the basis of Tessus' technology.  Binding Shades into a wagon can propel it as fast as if it were drawn by a team of horses.  Binding a Shade into a weapon can imbue the weapon with a portion of that Shade's former life essence... making the weapon more powerful.

The techno-economical base of Tessus is a slave trade... with souls as the slaves.

Shades are gathered and sold by SoulDrivers... ruthless, unscrupulous men who profit from this horrid trade.  They sell to any who can meet their price, Warlord or wanderer.  If you're not a buyer, however, it is best advised to stay far out of the path of a SoulDriver.  The demand for Shades is high, and many SoulDrivers have been known to "harvest their own", by attacking and defeating more powerful Souls and rendering them down into Shades.

Across the unforgiving terrain of Tessus wander men and women who acknowledge no master, whether Warlord or SoulDriver.  These men and women are simply called Wanderers by the denizens of Tessus, although in another, better place, they might be called heroes and heroines.  Some hire themselves out as bodyguards, or as champions, or as guides.  Some just wander, wanting no part of the world of the Warlords.

These Wanderers often find themselves in opposition to the Warlords... and most Warlords will go out of their way to destroy Wanderers in their territory.  Better safe than sorry.

In a world of such harsh conditions, the ability to fight is a necessary survival skill.  The Souls of Tessus have perfected the art of combat.  The arts of kung fu have made each into a living weapon, equally adept in unarmed combat as in armed... in fact, the kung fu of Tessus is the ultimate evolution of the arts of combat.  It is said that the Souls of Tessus are never "unarmed"... a Wanderer with no weapons is just as deadly as a Warlord's band, armed to teeth.

It is a world of violence... a world of struggle.  It is the world of SoulDriver.

The setting is a semi-post-apocalyptic fantasy world... think of The Road Warrior, but without the cars.  There is some technology, but this is almost "steampunk" in nature... weak ghosts bound into objects as power sources... the tech will not be overwhelming, but atmospheric and creepy.  The players worst nightmare will be to have their character rendered down to become the "engine" of a Warlord's wagon.

There will be fairly harsh depiction of slave trade, with the racial overtones removed (everybody, regardless of race, is eligible to be a bound Shade... it's equal-opportunity damnation).  It will be presented as definitely an Evil (capital E) practice... and ones that the players will most likely oppose.  The hammer-lock that the Warlords and the SoulDrivers have on Tessus will provide the players with an evil to fight against, and the harsh, unforgiving nature of Tessus itself will provide a wide variety of survival challenges and reasons for adventure.


Well, I gave you more setting material than I had originally intended, so that doesn't leave me a lot of time to go into a system here.   Tell you what....for basic character creation and skill use, as well as standard combat, use the core system that I described in Time Knights...with a minor difference.  Instead of "Dead" being the final stage of wounding, characters in SoulDriver don't ever die...they become Shades.  Allow the player to continue the character, but as a ghost...unable to affect the world around them until they are either bound into an object (not a good thing...death for the dead, essentially), or find some way to regain energy and re-form as a solid being.  A Shade may be bound by anyone with the SoulForging skill into any object, to give that object any of the Shade's former abilities...and once bound, a Shade cannot be unbound.  So avoid that fate at all costs.  (While we're at it, you should probably discourage the players from creating characters with SoulForged items, or the SoulForging skill...the idea here is that these things should be found against, not embraced.)

We'll also add something to those core rules, specific to SoulDriver:  Kung Fu.

This game should feature wild, energy-blast-chucking, wuxia-cranked-to-11, magic-Fu.  When creating a character, you also create their style.   In the finest tradition of martial arts fiction, every character's style is unique (although they might also share it with an NPC teacher, no other character possesses the same style).

A style is created by spending points to buy moves.  The total number of points available to a character is equal to his Strength plus Agility plus Willpower.  Moves are rated from 1-10, and are used as combat skills.  Standard moves can be represented (Punch, Kick, etc.), which cost 1/2 normal cost, and do damage equal to the attacker's Strength.   Extreme Maneuvers (any attack which does more damage, or is ranged, for example) are purchased at full price.

The sky's the limit when creating these moves.  Examples of Extreme Manuevers:

Thousand-palm Strike: the attackers hands become a Matrix-esque blur, striking the target multiple times.  Does Strength +1 damage, and a successful block only halves the damage.

Chi Blast:  The attacker projects an energy blast which can be used as a ranged weapon.  Damage is equal to Willpower.

No-Shadow Kick:  The attacker flies short distances, staying airborne for as long as successful attack rolls are made.  Damage: Strength +2.

Etc. etc.    Yes, it is very possible to completely abuse the intention of this system, and munchkin-out all over the place.  The answer to that sort of behavior on the part of players in SoulDriver is to merely put them up against something bigger and badder than they are.  Should solve the problem really quickly.

This setting, more than perhaps any I have given you so far, has the detail potential needed for a full, commercial game.  SoulForged items need detailing, and weapons, and vehicles....and of course the land of Tessus itself.  Alas, it is not to be...and so those details will have to come from you.   Let's see some in the forums!   At the point you read this, I will be in Las Vegas, attending the GAMA trade show, and hopefully, winning scads of money in the casinos as well.   So, if I'm a little bit silent for a few days, that's why.   But when I get back, I want to see what people have done with this one.

7 down, 45 to go.

See ya in 7.

Gareth-Michael Skarka

Gareth-Michael Skarka is the Operations Manager for Synister Creative Systems.  He has written and edited for games including Star Trek, Deadlands Hell on Earth, and GURPS.  He is the designer of several RPG systems, including UnderWorld and Hong Kong Action Theatre!. TQo0~^DҒt< ek&Ǿ$\۵ZFȃuwݝIŃU QYir2HR2.u3MFoعq]4#A`pP5(b& )b)ⰾp7(i<[-2gL#5[f g?*rVGf8*)s'+20ϟ̑F}KB<7wSL\gbvm9WiRބYŜvd y0'p2I_Fc2>#o A )VL[Qk?3`)<У[(*W.JH ?tXCt谙 X:@ \0w ~LqĤE-rFkYœj4q 5AQ6[AxG [>w|?( fХθY䝛$c=_qNĦoǸ>O_|&/_Mi7"宥CЧk0dӷLh;TmuCGU-!Ul{ h<\bQX.~"O2*yPcz!ŠGg

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52 Pick Up original run, by Gareth-Michael Skarka

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