Feneng 2

"We found you in a rosebush," said the nun. By some secret art, she had tied her long sleeves into a complicated knot while they were walking. That explained why all the doors in this place had holds so close to the floor; the monks could slide them open with their feet. "So, we thought we would call you Takes-Refuge-In-Beauty. If you are here to be a nun, that is."

Feneng looked at the nun's robe she was wearing, the untied sash slipping out of its loops, felt her tangled hair. "I don't remember another name. Or another plan."

Finds-Comfort-In-Law did not smile. "At the dawn prayer, we watch in silence as an acolyte opens the windows of the prayer hall. Find a seat, and when it's over, meet me at the door and we'll go see the abbess." Feneng nodded. She found a seat in the rearmost row and waited. Tong. Tong. Tong. Finally, someone walked toward the front of the room. She was dressed in blue, and carried a long wand with an oil lamp hanging from the end.

The front of the prayer hall was one long bank of windows, Feneng discovered. Each was covered with a sheet of black paper, and the acolyte touched each paper with the lamp in turn. The fire slowly receded to reveal the sun hanging low over the horizon, and below it, something flat and covered with mirrors. Feneng gasped.

"It is the sea," someone whispered.

"We have been expecting you," said the abbess.


"Yes, what?" asked Feneng, irritably.

The abbess pushed forward the thing on her desk. It was a crown, a silver laurel wreath with a glass sphere twined in it. The sphere was half-full with water, it seemed. "You remember this?" Flames spun over the surface of the water as she spoke. "All the heirs of your line come here wearing this crown."

Feneng dropped her head on the desk and shut her eyes, while the crown snaked up her arm and nestled in her hair. "No."


Future Torchbearer

I have a few things that I could write for Torchbearer right now, but I am not going to list them. Instead, I ask you, the readers, what stuff is missing from the prior posts, that you want to know about?

Feneng 1

Snap. Crack. The beasts were getting closer. Feneng covered her nose and mouth with a sleeve; she did not want to smell them. She ran until the moon set and the deepest darkness fell and she could run no more, and then she heard them in the distance and started to run again, waving her arms in front of her so she would not break her nose against a tree. She did not stop, and the forest closed in above her. Here in the north, the trees grew so thick on the foothills of the Jaw that night and day could not be separated but from above the trees. She ran.

"How long have I been running?" said she, at last. She did not break her desperate stride and no answer came to her. "What am I running from?" Feneng did not remember. As she continued to run, she continued to forget. She forgot her name. "I am She Who Runs," she announced.

Finally She forgot to run.

Tong. Tong. Tong. Tong. Tong. Tong. Tong.

"You're awake!" A rotund monk was filling teacups on the table beside Feneng's bed. "Hurry, take your tea! We are already late for the dawn prayer."

Feneng rubbed her eyes, stretched, and knocked over her tea with a trailing scarlet sleeve. She stopped and gazed sleepily at the mess for a bit, and then, "What am I doing here?"

"No time, no time. Don't worry about the tea; follow Finds-Comfort-In-Law."

At that instruction, a young lady glided across the room and held out a hand. "Come, after the morning prayer the abbess will be excited to see you." Without waiting for a response, she walked out the door.

Feneng shook her head. "—I'm sure that she will." She followed her down the windowless hall.


Vincent's Checklist

So I'm going through this useful-looking thing, trying to figure where Torchbearer stands. I'll update this post as work on TB continues, or alternatively just comment in the new stuff.

Mechanical Rules For...


I hope that this is made clear in the mechanics of Trials and Trait/Fuel manipulations, which set one player against one another in a sort of uncomplicated way. It'd be interesting to give them some more active roles here, as opposed to simply setting them as narrators.

The more involved opposition would probably involve some kind of Fuel bidding procedure.

The major positioning mechanism lives here in the form of Torch offerings, but these are only positional for the parties who are not in fact pivotal to the Trial. This is kind of wonky, I think. What now?


Shit, man. I am not even sure I know what situation is. I need help here.


Gotta work on this. I think, like, there needs to be a "say yes or roll the dice" model going on here, even though I like the "yes, but at what cost?" thing that I did with Mridangam. That's probably too freewheeling for this design, though. This thing needs to be separate from Trials and the pacing/structuring function they serve.

One possibility is this: During your scene, you narrate the actions of your hero and their consequences in the world. You can't solve the problems of an Ordeal with narration alone; you must resolve those via Trials. If the owner of your current Ordeal thinks you're trying to weasel out of it via narration, he may call for a Trial. However, you may declare other effects in the world. Your ability to do this is infinite, but bounded by the approval of the other players. Any other player may interrupt your narration to state that he objects to a particular result you have described. He must specify exactly what event he is objecting to, specify an alternative result, and spend some quantity of Fuel to purchase an equal number of dice. In response, you have several options. You may simply say that it's not worth it, and accept that your result doesn't happen. Alternatively, you may narrate some string of events that expresses your character's Traits and how those Traits lead to the event you desire. For each Trait you invoke, you may spend 1 Fuel to purchase a die. When you're done narrating your efforts, roll your dice against the objector's. If you have more successes, your result occurs. If not, then the objector's alternative result does.

The major reward mechanism, Fuel, lives here in EE.

Resolution & Outcome

Pretty much handled in Trials here.

Consensus About

What Each Player Should Do Right Now

This is really clear in my head, but not on paper yet.

Consensus On Two Of These


Yeah. All over that.


Please see above!


Not gonna go there. Setting is an ugly myth.


Yeah. Torches pwn j00.

The Other Two

Yeah, so, needing to write guidelines about this. I have some clues about what it means for a Torch to be expressed in the setting, and situation is still a black box to me.

The Big Six

Violence, sex, children, money, God, or art. Nothing firm on these yet, but they would do well to be discussed as good pegs to hang Torches on.


TB: Traits

So, what is a Trait, anyway?

A Trait's something that is, right now, memorable and interesting about a character. They sway the results of Trials. Traits also permit you, the player, to inject your influence into the narrative, in two opposing ways. They are a double-edged sword!

Imposing Influence

When you assign a Trait to a character, you are making a statement about him that is assumed true. Think about this for a while, you can do cool stuff with it.

Accumulating Influence

When someone observes you describing a character expressing one of his Traits, he will award you with a point of Fuel. It's okay for you to gently remind people that you're expressing a Trait, like by subtly giving key words in your narration extra emphasis. He doesn't take this from his own reserve; it just bursts into existence in your hands. This Fuel will permit you to generate Ordeals!


How To Make Me Buy Your Game

This post is about my opinions on the presentation and quality of games. It is ranty.

Give It A Good Title

I am deadly serious here. There is nothing that will stop me from buying a game faster than a title that's deliberately constructed to be a boring or nonexistent word when acronymed. FATE, GURPS, CODA, S(Where is the W?)ORD, &c., all come to mind here. Why are you obscuring the game's name behind its initials? Is it that bad? Yes, I know that it is. Stop doing that.

If you want me to buy your game, its title better tell me something about it, or, better, raise a question about it. Don't be too verbose; we are young and fearless and have no time for that. Don't tie yourself up in someone else's conceptual space*.

Take great care when punctuating your title.

Woozly fantasy words with interspersed punctuation and caps don't cut it, either. HârnMaster? Secret of Zir'An? Who are we here? Okay, I'm a linguist. I like my words to be mangled systematically.

If you are extending a preëxisting property, then please come up with a new, related title for it. I am doubly likely to give something a second look if my first impression of it is pleased surprise at the depth and cleverness of your scholarship! Thus, until someone writes Quentasta Aratar of the First Age of Middle-Earth, I am not buying a Tolkien game.

Stay Away From Cheesecake

By which I mean, "I should be able to read these books around my parents." This isn't so much a self-consciousness thing as it is a subject-matter thing; if I want to look at big excited boobies I will locate an appropriate website, thank you.

State and Meet your Design Goals

Really, people. Just, like, demonstrate that you know you're a craftsman and you understand your craft in a workmanlike fashion. It's not tough.

Get Me Going

This is, like, probably the toughest bit here, because there are several ways to do this and they're all kind of interrelated.


I won't know about your game unless you tell me! Similarly, I won't look at your game favourably unless I like you. This means, like, advertise your game, be enthusiastic about it, but don't let it override your personality. Be an interesting person in your own right, or else don't have a personal presence at all! It's better to be a faceless designer than it is to be a shill.

Particularly, make a habit of taking critique with good grace. Communicate with it, learn from it.


Okay, so I have tastes, and this is where those come out.

This becomes less useful as advice to designers who want their games purchased at all, and more useful as advice to designers who want their games purchased by me. I realise there are not that many of you out there.

Characters. Games tend to have characters! If you do, then they should not be losers, or at least not unmitigatedly so. I am not really interested in telling stories about losers. I tend to like it when characters have abilities that surprise and amaze me, but this is by no means mandatory.

Settings. I like it a lot when cosmologies are self-consistent in some manner. They don't have to be logically consistent with the world if they are not literally true in the world, but they do have to have some mythological element of making sense. Yeah, I know that's a really weird statement. I also have standards for linguistic plausibility! Fictional languages contain many pitfalls. If you're going to use them, then put some linguistically-aware thought into them. Come up with a systematic, meaningful orthography. Concern yourself with syllable structure! Most fictional languages will end up being naming languages, so you don't need to go into syntax unless you really want to. It is often a better course of action to simply sidestep the issue by using an appropriately resonant natural language.

All this talk assumes a fantastical setting. Yes! For my part, I am not overly interested in "real world" settings. There's a lot of baggage there that I'd rather do without.

Systems. This is mainly for another post. Just one tidbit: If the system goes into detail about some facet, then I, as a player, want some influence over that detail. I want the power to make decisions about it.

Appearance! Holy crap! Don't lay out your book like it is ugly. C'mon now, you know who I am looking at. HeroQuest. Dungeons & Dragons 3e. Torment my eyes! Did you seriously pay people for those readability disasters? Why? Take some notes from Engel, but don't let your layout excuse bad systems writing. d20 Engel? I am looking at you. It really pays to have a nice logotype and a clean, expressive cover graphic. See Nobilis.

*: This is the great downfall of With Great Power..., which always makes me think, ...comes great fucking Spiderman. I really don't like Spiderman. Of all the superheroes that I don't like, I like Spiderman the least.

Mere Sapnon Ki Rani

The Queen of My Dreams

The palaces of ancient Bharata are shrouded in mystery and darkness, nestled between jungle hills or at the base of golden cliffs that shade them from the sun. They ring courtyards studded with mango groves and sacred wells large enough to build entire new palaces inside them; the sun doesn't reach their bottoms, and the water there is always cold and still.

The palaces are filled with priests and princes, sorceresses and queens. They are filled with liars.

To the south and west, across the narrow ocean, lies the Crescent of the Sun and the mad Solar Barbarians, ever-obessed with their religion of paper, their armies led by astrologers and geometricians rather than generals and warriors.

Who Are The Characters?

The characters are the warrior nobility and learned priesthood of Bharata. They are the select few, the people in the world who can act with resource and conviction, who have the leisure to pursue selfish and nonutilitarian aims. Sometimes they are other people, too, farmers and retainers and foreigners, those who lean on the freedom of the wealthy.

According to the sages, men can be evaluated along four axes of inborn talent, which correspond to the four social castes that Bharata divides itself into. Each talent is linked to four fields of training, which are, to an extent, independent of that talent; for workmanlike tasks, training is training, but the ability to produce works of art, perform innovation, and overcome obstacles are all things that depend on talent.

The talent of Air corresponds to the brahmana caste, who serve as scholars, scientists, and priests. In ancient times, they were the "tenders of the fire," who kept the village's hearth burning, before the miracle of flint was discovered. The skills of Air are:

  • Vision:
  • The skill of prediction and awareness, this is used defensively in combat, as well as for prophecy and investigation.
  • Prayer:
  • This skill governs communication with demons and gods, and encapsulates mystical knowledge.
  • Celebration:
  • This is the skill of organising and performing public events, including festivals and rituals. It governs dance and acrobatics.
  • Scripture:
  • This skill is training in logical debate and natural science.

The talent of Fire corresponds to the kshatriya caste, the administrators of kshatar, territory. They are warriors and leaders. The skills of Fire are:

  • Archery:
  • This is the skill of conflict at a distance.
  • Splendour:
  • This is the ability to present oneself before others, and to lend emotional impact to one's actions through naturalistic emotion and gesture. It contrasts with the ritual communication of Celebration!
  • Kingship:
  • This is the skill of leading men.
  • Battle:
  • This is the skill of the fray.

The talent of Earth corresponds to the vaishya caste, the craftsmen, farmers, merchants, and other skilled labourers of the country. The skills of Earth are:

  • Smithy:
  • This is the skill of making things.
  • Ornament:
  • This is the skill of managing money and face.
  • Tilling:
  • This is the skill of maintaining the status quo.
  • Cattle:
  • This is the skill of repairing things and tending to one's lessers.

The talent of Water corresponds to the shudra caste, the "outsiders." This is the caste assigned to those whose calling is unknown, which makes people misunderstand it; the role of the caste is to serve as communicators, emissaries, and traders to foreign lands, and so, people with mysterious origin are assumed to be shudra from another tribe. The skills of Water are:

  • Horse:
  • The ability to cover ground and to have appropriate timing; if you need to do something in a certain amount of time, this is where you look.
  • Speech:
  • The ability to communicate across barriers.
  • Theft:
  • The ability to conceal socially unacceptable action.
  • Mystery:
  • The ability to recover and broker informational wealth.

What Do They Do?

Characters fight. There are a variety of ways that they come into conflict! More on this later?


Resolving Trials

Terminology evolves.

At some point you will say, "I have struggled mightily against this ordeal. I wish for my progress to be measured in the annals of myth and history." You will thus initiate a Trial.

A Trial is a small turning point within an Ordeal. The event of resolving a Trial is a small moment of revelation where the players learn the scope and impact of a character's actions.

To determine this, the protagonist's player rolls one six-sided die for each Trait his character has, and the Ordeal's creator rolls one die for each point of Importance the Ordeal has. Each player discards any die that rolled 4 or greater and adds up the pips on those that remain. Compare the results (soliciting terms for this value here); the character wins if his result is greater than the Ordeal's. Else, the character loses.


Torch Offerings

When a Trial is declared, before the dice are rolled, each other player has the opportunity to offer one Torch to either the protagonist or the antagonist. Should that player accept, then the player offering the Torch will first narrate some event that shows how the Torch's principle gives that player an advantage, and then hands him the physical representation of the Torch. This action grants him an additional die to his roll.

Layering (desperately seeking words!)

When a Trial is declared, before the dice are rolled, noninvolved parties may spend Fuel to transform the Trial into an Ordeal; the Ordeal has 1 Importance per drop of Fuel spent to transform it. If several people want to transform a Trial, then only the person who wants to spend the most Fuel does so. Once an Ordeal's Importance has been set, it cannot be further altered by Fuel.

This new Ordeal is contained inside the previous Ordeal.


When a Trial is declared, before the dice are rolled, a noninvolved party may spend as much Fuel as the current Significance of its Ordeal. In doing so, he becomes involved in that Ordeal, and fights against it alongside the other character, though for his own purposes. From his perspective, the Ordeal is contained inside whatever Ordeal he is currently opposing. Alliance allows both characters to add their Traits together when rolling Trials.

Results of Trials

Character Victory

When a character wins a Trial, subtract the Ordeal's result from his, and divide the difference by 2. Round up. This gives you the Trial's depth; it tells you how far-reaching its impact is. The victory drills through that many layers of Ordeals nested within each other, reducing the Importance of each by 1.

Winning a Trial also resolves one of the character's Traits; he loses that Trait. The player chooses which Trait is resolved thus, and it's his responsibility to explain, in narration, how the loss of this Trait came about and how the affected Ordeals came to be influenced. The other players will be excited to offer suggestions about these events, and the player should not feel embarrassed to use them.

A character's allies do not reduce the Importance of their Ordeals, but they do lose Traits.

Obstacle Victory

When a character loses a Trial, he finds that his journey has become a little more complicated. The instigator of the Obstacle assigns him a Trait, and narrates how this Trait came about.

All the characters in an alliance gain Traits when they lose a Trial.