Friday, December 8, 2017


Arthur Rackham

Oh, man, it feels good to be thinking about tabletop again. It's been crunch time for the past few months as my wife and I get ready to open up our new restaurant (and later bar!), so tabletop's been on the backburner for a bit.

I have managed, however, to keep the Bone King adventure running every other week (will update soon) and as the campaign played out we noticed some trends. Since the Northern Realm went level-less there are fewer tangible means of 'progressing' outside of accumulating special items or becoming cursed, etc. And yet in the campaign, I couldn't really deny the players the opportunity to learn new things. It seemed only reasonable to add a soft rule for learning new skills and spells, so it was added. But we noticed there were still some big changes in the characters. As they interacted with powerful artifacts, other planes, and alien creatures they became physically changed by the experience. This isn't a new concept at many tables, but since there are no levels and it was such a poignant thing in our current campaign, I thought I'd codify it. So here it is, the Scar mechanic:

Taking part in a story as it unfolds is a reward in and of itself, but for an adventure to be truly immersive, players need to feel like their characters are developing along with it. Scars are tools for adding tangible character and plot development.

Scars are dramatic changes in the makeup of a character. They are also permanent or at least made to feel permanent. When developing story arcs GMs should include moments or things that can radically alter a character. This change should have a real impact and unexpected consequences. For example, while across the veil in the Shadow Realm, Ravenna found a dull silver cup. When she returned to the Material Realm the cup underwent a transformation into a brilliant gold and jewel-encrusted goblet. Now, the GM intends this goblet to play an important role in the story but also to present an opportunity for the characters. If used to drink, Ravenna will become closer to the Shadow Realm, granting her the ability to see invisible things and to randomly slip through dark cracks to spaces beyond. This effect can aid Ravenna as much as it can get her into trouble, as she could randomly slip into a dungeon with no reliable way of coming back and there are also the invisible things that once stole past unnoticed, now visible and very much aware that she can see them.

This illustrates the first aspect of all scars:

1.     Radical change brought on by the story, leading to the second:

2.     A scar is brought on by a character’s actions. A scar should never be forced on a character. That doesn’t mean that players can refuse one when it happens, it just means that a scar must be bought with a measure of known risk. Ravenna drinking from the cup, for example, it’s a strange cup with obvious magical properties. If Ravenna chooses to drink from it then she must accept the consequences. The same goes for entering battle, consulting beings with powers greater than her own, or putting on a ring once worn by a powerful undead king.

3.     Last, a scar should cut both ways. If it would aid more than hinder, then it should have some small aspect with a drawback. Likewise, one that most often hinders should have an aspect that sometimes aids. There are of course exceptions, namely afflictions such as curses and injuries, but keep in mind there should be some avenue to overcoming them (even if it’s just temporary).

As a good rule of thumb, every story arc should include one scar. GMs should prepare an item, creature, place, or moment that could scar at least one character in addition to the random chance characters will become scarred from an injury or encounter.