Monday, 26 January 2015

Ebon by Greg Porter uses a directed graph for the character... I'm not joking!

Ebon is rare. It's rare to find a character mechanic that is surprising, unique, woven into the system and described in two pages. Attributes, secondary attributes and skills now look so... well... pedestrian. I'm going to jump straight into the gorgeousness.

The heart of the graph

Aspects describe your character and flow from one to another like snaking rivulets on a rain sodden window. The river flow begins with Primary Aspects that describe raw talent, slither through Secondary (honed talents), slosh into tertiary aspects (broad life experiences) before sploshing into Reserves, which represent your ability to withstand hardships.

The Aspects are arranged for you in a lovely directed graph (see below), the three primary ones (Body, Mind, Spirit) being in the middle. These are filled out with a delightful point assign technique where you begin with choosing a tradeoff between the three primary and then flowing the numbers down across the others.

Familiar ground - ish

The system is a dice pool: target number is between 1 and 6, roll D6 equal to the Aspect, at least one of the die you've rolled must be larger or equal to target. Each die over the target improves how well you've succeeded, each 1 gives you a narrative drawback. The damage you take, be it meaty-stab, brainy-ache or some other, it is all managed using the subtleties of the Aspect graph. Brilliant!

The horror, the horror

Horror is neatly categories into your everyday, communal-garden mundane blood, gore, violence; and spooky Cthulhu-esque supernaturality. Each bounce of different parts of the Aspect tree. Magic and Piety is used to fight their respective horrors. Experience raises aspects and you recover lost reserve over time. There's also a gear table.


Ebon is micro and so you're going to have to work quite hard to run it. Some of the language could be simplified. I don't think Aspects gain anything from being called Aspects rather than attributes and defining Endeavours (types of action) isn't that useful. This would leave more room for examples or a slightly larger font. A not-too-arty type could make the most amazing character sheet out of the Aspects graph.

Fizzing thoughts

The core idea of attributes (Aspects) that feed other, less important, attributes is inspired. It made ideas and possibilities buzz around my head. The graph Greg has provided is excellent at horror but what about Sci Fi? A tweak here, a tweak there and it could be used for any genre. For the more crunch inclined, how about getting the players to lay out their own graphs? You could end up with less regular shapes.

I did a PhD in circles and arrows

When was the last time you read a system that made you feel like you wanted to write a whole new one? Ebon's directed graph of Aspects is beautiful thought out and I would love to use something like it. Graphs are not just for plotting, they're for characters too. Greg, thank you for sharing.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Homebrews are personal: Legends of Ryllia by Michael Morrison

Michael Morrison uses sticky globs of paint Legends of Ryllia to fill the canvas of Ryllia. A homebrew pulled from that fizzing place in all our minds where the campaign world really lives. Michael bravely states:
Ryllia is my home
The races and places are landmarks in both game and his life and I feel privileged to be a part of it for 108 pages. Ryllia isn't tight, the system isn't novel but it has something more precious: a soul.

It begins with the past

History informs Ryllia's current state. A creation myth scoops up lush lumps of antiquity to intertwine the fates of races. The loci of this rich history is The Curse. The old immortal races, jealous of the new mortal races (humans), got together to wipe them out. It backfired spectacularly and each old race suffered their own unique drawback, from hoarding to hedonism. These races exist in the modern day at odds with the effects of The Curse; powerful yet broken enough to retain balance.

The campaign world is rich and plump; brimming with wild jungles, dark unexplored forests, sunny archaepelagos, towering citadels and scarred mountains. The races are neatly describes and broadly humanoid. My favourite race is the Myrwinn, an intelligent race of flying rats whose culture differs in each nation. The Myrwinns below are from the Great Forest.


Split into world shattering Greater Elements of Wind, Water, Void, Deep and Fire and then the wear-flowers-in-your-hair powers of prayer, songs and hugs in front of a log fire (I made that last one up). You pick an element (called an Aspect) and stick with it. There are no spell lists to pour through but a good set of examples of the kind of things each element can do. Magic has sensible limitations and if you do quite a lot of magic, you're going to pick up quirks. In magic systems such as these, the player's imagination is key and I think Ryllia gives just enough to fire the imagination without snuffing it out by over-specification.

Creating a Legend

Not the title of Tom Cruise's autobiography but character creation. You don't actually create a legend, though; that will happen through the course of play but you do create a budding hero-to-be. The creation steps lead you through nicely, although I think picking race and nation is rather difficult because it requires that everyone reads the entirety of Chapter One.

Attributes and skills are point buy with a dash of D6 points too. Your Attributes are Sight (awareness/intelligence), Joy (charisma) and Life (strength/dexterity). Spark adds a player chosen ability, such as "Always makes a dramatic entrance". You can have as many Sparks are you can afford. Mystery is used to generate plot hooks for your character. The more you have of it, the more the referee can pull out of the blue. I am not sure I like this one as an attribute as I think that players should all be given their turn in the spotlight. Professional skills are decide-your-own and combat skills are choose-a-style.

Boons and banes are advantages and disadvantages and latch onto an attribute. A player decides a little description and a value (boons and banes must balance). Use these during play when appropriate.

Story Points are awarded for making the story more interesting and a Legendary rating charts your progress in the game. The higher your Legendary rating, the more difficult you are to kill. Both Story and Legendary points can be used to save yourself or bend the narrative.


Based on skill, attribute, modifiers, a D6 and a target number. Exploding die on a 6 and if your equipment is particularly nasty you can roll more than one D6 and pick the best. Combat has initiative and then you choose how much of a pool of points you assign to offence and defence. When you attack, use the attack number with a D6. When defending, use the defence. There's more but nothing startling here. The background is rife for reimplementing in your own favourite system.

Now to say the difficult bit

No-one will love your campaign world like you will. That accepted, you can move onto making it easier for others to play. Ryllia is a great campaign world and deserves its bolts tightened to improve its accessibility. I don't know if Michael intends to return to it but hopefully this little list might help others struggling to move from "the brain dump" to a work more easily consumed.
  • Organise your contents. Introduction passages should avoid.
  • Be consistent in your terms. If you have an ancient warrior race called the Gumbys then avoid using "that old Warrior Race".
  • In introductions, keep the number of made up names to a minimum. Use as much common English as you can. In the detail, use the common names
  • Split up races and locations.
  • The players won't ready all the background before building a character, so write short paragraphs for each nation/race choice.
  • Put all the chatting-to-the-reader in an appendix at the end.
  • If the relative locations of places are important, include a map. Could be a photo of a scribble on a napkin but it makes a big difference.


Campaign worlds that turn into games are full of charm and heart. Reading Ryllia stirred something up that peeled out a smile. Reading it is like reading a mirror on the campaign worlds of each and every one of us - personal, loved and inhabited as a time shared with cherished friends. I do hope Michael returns to it, to help it mature rather than leaving it to languish.

Thank you for sharing, Michael.