07 October 2007

Mortal Coil by Brennan Taylor

This game seems aimed firmly at modern, urban fantasy stories (with Tim Powers and Neil Gaiman at the top of the list of inspirations).

The setting is built at the beginning of play, with the group putting together a list of key themes, things in the world and so on. There's a good chapter on building this up, and it seems well conceived to get a setting which everyone is invested in (much like Shock:). The character generation works in a similar way, defining a few more things about the world as you go, most likely.

Character generation is fairly straightforward otherwise, with a couple of things that stand out. First is that characters can pick one of four power levels, from novice or veteran (mortals with less or more experience), ancient (e.g. long-lived magicians or vampires) or ageless (e.g. gods and other immortals). Each step starts with more resources but has a little less flexibility (both in character generation and in game play). Second, players pick passions, driving motivations for the character. Interestingly, these must always add up to five points - if one increases, a point must be removed from another. In addition, if you use a particular passion more than once per session you must increase it, so there's a pull for characters to become obsessive if they use these resources in play. There's also an advantage to having as many passions in play as possible, so balancing having more (allowing you to use a bonus more times) versus less (each bonus is worth more) becomes something to consider in play.

Conflict is resolved without dice, instead relying on a resource bidding system. All resources are pools of points (with different uses). For each character, their player secretly allocates points to various action types and these are revealed simultaneously. Totals are based on points allocated plus various bonuses for situation, abilities, passions etc. It looks straightforward enough, although I don't have enough experience with systems like this to really be able to judge how it will play. Most pools can also have points sacrificed permanently for extra advantage - there are quite a few variations and specifics depending on what is happening and how it is being done.

The GM has to manage resources for all NPCs as well, just like the player characters. There is a key difference in that the GM's magic and power (a sort of uber-pool, also used for character development) are common over all NPCs.

The magic system is the main thing the system gets mentioned for, and it's pretty neat. During the setting creation steps, magic is defined in general terms. However, you are explicitly prohibited from naming any specifics at that point - they only come in during play. When a character uses any magic, the player spends a magic point and describes the effect desired. Another player then describes the price that a character must pay for that effect. This is then written into the setting details and is now part of how magic works in the world. Subsequently, any character may simply spend the magic point (and pay the in-game price) to get that effect.

E.g. A player who has a wizard character might say "Wizards can summon demonic helpers who can spy for them." The price is set at "And you need to provide a host body for the demon." From that point on, any wizard can do this in your game.

This seems like it will provide a good, organic magic system for your game that develops along with the story.

Also, the book looks really good. It has very evocative art from Jennifer Rodgers (although mainly showing the more horrific side of this genre).

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