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.

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