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Game Design: Step by Step

Forces of Occupation, Part II

by Gareth-Michael Skarka

October 31, 1999

 

Last week's introduction of the Guilds ran a little longer than I had anticipated, and so this week, we finish up our look at the occupational groupings of the UnderWorld. We have three more Guilds to cover-and the removal of one of the Guilds as well.

First, the removal. After mulling over the topic over the past week (including some wicked cool suggestions from T.S. Luikart, via email), I've decided to drop the idea of a separate Guild devoted to magic. One of the factors that goes into making the setting of UnderWorld is the idea of pervasive magic. I've already introduced the idea of the "magical background radiation" that is everywhere-leading to, among other things, the existence of the Legendaries. So, bluntly put, magic is everywhere in the UnderWorld. So, sez I to myself, why limit its use to one Guild? Why shouldn't everyone have access?

So that's what I'm going to do. Magic will be everywhere, and each Guild will have the ability to touch some part of it. Artificers, for example, already manipulate it to an extent, through their use of Salvage Tech. There will be a set list of magical "techniques" (pending a better term), and each Guild will have one or two of those techniques as their domain. More on this when I further detail magic (later, I promise).

For now, however, more on Guilds.

In a subterranean setting like UnderWorld, you have to have some people who are skilled at digging (and more importantly, *repairing*) the tunnels and caverns. This Guild would be devoted to teaching its members the skills of both digging new tunnels and shoring up the old ones. Members of this Guild would know the best way from point A to point B, and if there wasn't a way, they'd make one. They'd be experts in structure (both building them, and taking them down in big, messy ways). Think of all of the nifty stuff that usually gets attributed to Dwarves in standard fantasy settings, and you could apply some of that to this Guild. As far as the name goes, I mull through a few possibilities (Diggers, Miners, Tunnel Men) before deciding upon Sappers (Sappers were originally the soldiers who dug tunnels from trenches up to (and beneath) enemy positions-now the name is primarily associated with anti-mine engineers). I like the term "The Sapper's Guild" more than "those tunnel-digging-and-fortifying guys."

The Navigator's Guild is the next one that occurred to me-when I was thinking of a character type like those surly-but-with-a-heart-of-gold Tramp Steamer Captains of the old pulps-someone to get you where you want to go, and to watch your back while you're getting there. Down in the tunnels, there are rivers (rainwater or sewage-who knows, but I'm not jumping in there to find out...)-and where there are rivers, there are boats to travel on them (another image flits across my mind's eye here: the "Wonketania" -the oompa-loompa-powered paddlewheel boat in "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory"-perfect for the weird-shit-o-meter! Or hey-what about Morpheus' submarine in "The Matrix?" -also perfect). Travel, though, is not limited to the rivers...your characters may have a need to travel down below the deepest tunnels, further than any Tagger has explored...and who better to take you there than Captain Quinn and his Leviathan Crawler? Basically, Navigators are the owners/operators of transit devices (Boats, private subway cars, whatever), who take people where they want to go. They'll have access to a vehicle of some sort, knowledge of the routes, that sort of thing.

The last Guild is devoted to information. They deal in knowledge. Sages, advisors and specialists of every sort, this Guild keeps the maps, the records, the books and the files. They know things that no one else knows-they have heard of things that no one else has heard. The world below is a huge place, with countless tunnels-and each of those tunnels has a story. This Guild knows those stories, and countless others. Think of them as the UnderWorld equivalent of the Oracle, Sage and the Bard of the fantasy genre, plus the NetRunner and Fixer of Cyberpunk. If they don't have the information itself, they know where it is hidden, and how to get it. Initial inspiration for this Guild came from the character of "Father" on Beauty and the Beast-with his chambers filled floor to ceiling with books, charts, scrolls and maps. With that inspiration in mind, I name them The Librarians Guild. Every game needs an academic class of character, whether that is the Wizard, the NetRunner, the Science Officer, or what have you. These characters act as vital conduits of gamemaster-provided information, and occasionally fill the role of providing keen deductive reasoning as well. The Librarians will fill this niche for UnderWorld.

So, to sum up the "who/what" paradigm for defining characters in UnderWorld-we have 8 Breeds: Homeless, Freaks, Junkmen, Mole People, The Lost, Normals, Legendaries and Nomads. We also, coincidentally (really!), have 8 Guilds: Bravos, Artificers, Monks, Traders, Taggers, Sappers, Navigators and Librarians. The unintended symmetry of this works out nicely for a core book. Perhaps, through play, different Breeds and Guilds will present themselves, and these could form the basis of a supplemental release (although I would release them all in one book-I can't stand the "one group-one sourcebook" model of things. I much prefer a larger release that suits the needs of all players than a smaller release that appeals only to a specific group).

Character creation will work something like this: The player picks a Breed and a Guild, making note of the special abilities, magical techniques and skills that each confers. The player then picks three Defining Traits-those things that are the core descriptors of the character. He (or she) picks one from the list of Traits available to the chosen Breed, and one from the list available to the Guild. The third Defining Trait can come from ANY of the lists (it's the individualized "wild card" factor, if you will). The player then can choose three "secondary skills" from any of the other Guilds' lists-these are skills that the character has learned, but not anywhere near the level of proficiency that a member of that Guild would have. Additional secondary skills (beyond the initial three) can be taken, but for each one taken, the player must pick an accompanying disadvantage (game balance rears its ugly head).

That's basically it. Starting equipment will be largely defined by one's Guild, and of course, anything reasonable that you can convince the Conductor (the gamemaster) would be in your characters' kit.

Having taken a look at Character Definition and Creation, next week I'll go into a bit more detail on the "Head Count" mechanics-and, space permitting, we'll begin to get into the specifics of combat in the UnderWorld.

Until next week;
Gareth-Michael Skarka
prodigal@prodigalpublishing.com

Underworld, and all related terms and concepts contained herein are copyright 1999 by Gareth-Michael Skarka. All rights reserved.

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What do you think?

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All "Step by Step" design columns

  1. Inspiration to Perspiration October 26, 1999
  2. Comin' wit da Nifties October 27, 1999
  3. Concepts Continued October 28, 1999
  4. Character is what you are in the Dark October 29, 1999
  5. Forces of Occupation October 30, 1999
  6. Forces of Occupation, Part II October 31, 1999
  7. Head Count November 2, 1999
  8. Subterranean Ass-Kicking, 101 November 9, 1999
  9. Next Stop, Rune Station November 17, 1999
  10. It's All 'Bout Da Merlins November 23, 1999
  11. Miscellany December 1, 1999
  12. Lords of the UnderWorld December 8, 1999
  13. Lucky 13 December 15, 1999
  14. Miracle Under 34th Street December 22 1999
  15. Gareth's December 27th 'edition' is a survey, on what you want for future Underworld columns.
  16. Statistics and Junk January 5, 2000
  17. Reality Slap January 12, 2000
  18. Once More Into the Breach... January 20, 2000
  19. The Mechanics of Mechanics January 26, 2000
  20. Junkmen and Soundtracks February 2, 2000
  21. The Iron Forestries of Hell February 16, 2000
  22. And Now, For Something Completely Different... February 24, 2000
  23. Confessions of a Language Geek March 1, 2000
  24. Flood of Ideas March 15, 2000
  25. A New Direction? March 24, 2000
  26. The Envelope, Please... March 29, 2000
  27. Generic Systems, My Ass! April 5, 2000
  28. Big News, and Magic April 12, 2000
  29. Big Guns, Razor-sharp Swords, and a Bit with a Dog... April 19, 2000
  30. What's the Story, Morning Glory? April 26, 2000
  31. And now for something completely different, Survey time! May 3, 2000
  32. The Fever for the Flavor May 10, 2000
  33. Random Acts May 17, 2000
  34. A Run Through Dark Places May 25, 2000
  35. Service Interruption June 1, 2000
  36. Endings and Beginnings June 29, 2000
  37. A Brief Return to the Underworld July 13, 2000

Discussion of UnderWorld

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Earlier Comments (Issues 1-7)

(Editor's note: I'll consolidate these when I get a chance)

Other columns at RPGnet

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