Systems: Character Challenges

It’s so quiet.

I used to get online and fire up Pandora or iTunes or Youtube or whatever. I’d get recommendations from my friends and I’d listen to them, I’d buy the music if I liked it. And I had such weird tastes in music, too. Run DMC rubbed shoulders with Old Crow Medicine Show. Metallica, sure. Cannibal Corpse if I feel like listening to a garbage disposal try to sing (sometimes, you do). Hell, I’ll call up Beyonce or N’Sync or whatever other poppy shit I want to hear, because sometimes it’s in your head and that’s the only way to burn it out.

I mean, I did do that. I used to.

No one records anymore. Everyone’s too scared. There’s no anonymity anymore. Every shadow is a camera, and He’s always watching. Yes, He doesn’t send Them out for people telling the truth (though you do hear stories), but one mention of God or how it was better when you could still buy stuff or, hell, any ethnic or national sentiment…that’s enough to get you killed. And there are no secrets anymore. There’s only things He doesn’t notice.

Everyone’s terrified. They have every reason to be. And I start thinking about that, about how every shadow is a gateway, how they open seemingly at random, all hours of the day or night.

I don’t even sing in the shower anymore. I hum, quietly, when I’m feeling brave. I play the music in my head. Mostly it’s one song, the song that was playing when I drove by Monarch.

I drove by Monarch right before it happened. I stopped at a red light, and I saw people listening, heads out their windows. I turned off the CD and opened my window, and cocked my ear toward the Center.

I heard screaming. I heard that godawful noise that They make, though I didn’t know at the time what it was. I saw the windows crack, then shatter, like they’d been heated up and then doused with cold water. And then the walls buckled and the building fell down.

The song playing on my CD player was “Imagine.”

Imagine there’s no Heaven. It’s easy if you try.

I don’t have to try.

I don’t think this is what John Lennon meant.

So, I’ve been promising a bit of the system of curse the darkness for a while, so here ya go.

The game system uses cards, not dice. You need three decks to play. One deck is the GM’s deck, the other are combined (with jokers but without aces) and then separated by suit.

Characters have four Attributes. Each one is identified with a suit, like so:

The four Attributes are Focus, Stability, Stamina and Humanity. They are represented in play by the suits of Diamonds, Clubs, Spades and Hearts, respectively.

Focus is your character’s mental acuity, factual knowledge and ability to apply said mental faculties to a given situation. Remembering a piece of information in a stressful situation, making up a plan (i.e., getting a hint from the GM), and detective-type analysis would require Focus Challenges. Its suit is diamonds.

Stability is how well your character is holding everything together. You make Stability Challenges to work through blood, grief, loss, death, and especially the Between and Them. Openers make Stability challenges to Open gateways into and out of the Between. Its suit is clubs.

Stamina is physical acuity. Jumping, running, lifting and other gross motor things generally fall under Stamina. Fine motor activities can fall under Stamina, Focus or Stability depending on circumstances (more on this under Systems). Its suit is spades.

Humanity is dealing with people. It’s the social Attribute, used for negotiation, intimidation, empathy and “reading” people. Its suit is hearts.

There are two types of Challenges that you make with these cards, Character Challenges and Removal Challenges. I’ll talk about Removal Challenges at a later date, because they’re kind of involved. For now, let’s talk a little about how Character Challenges work.

A Character Challenge happens when a character performs an action with some risk of failure, but that would not reasonably result in that character being removed from the game. Searching an area (Focus), walking through a room strewn with bodies (Stability), lifting something heavy (Stamina), and convincing an NPC to help (Humanity) are examples of Character Challenges.

As part of the Character Challenge, the GM sets a difficulty. Difficulty can range anywhere from 2 to King, with 2 indicating something that any average person could accomplish without expending much effort (lifting a ladder, waving hello to a stranger, seeing a bleeding cut, doing simple arithmetic), and King being something that requires serious effort even for someone with a lot of knowledge and training (performing complicated surgery, solving complex calculations while distracted, watching a loved one dying in pain, convincing a group of strangers to fight Them on your behalf).

GMs should use Character Challenges only when a character undertakes an action that has some bearing on the story, or that will serve to flesh that character out and make for memorable moments. A character doesn’t need a Challenge to wave at someone, unless by doing so we (as the players) have a chance to learn something about that character or by that act of waving the character might change or further the story.

After the GM sets the difficulty, the player plays the top card in the appropriate suit. If that card meets or exceeds the difficulty, the action succeeds. If not, the action fails. Again, the result of a failed Character Challenge cannot remove a character from the game, and Character Challenges are not specified as lighting a candle or cursing the darkness.

Once the Character Challenge is resolved, successful or not, the card is placed in the character’s bank. Once the bank has three cards in it, the character can take part in Removal Challenges. That’s another post for another time, though.

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6 responses to “Systems: Character Challenges

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