Two things co-incided to bring me to this point: on our discord we rehashed the old discussion about Darkness Points being the clumsiest of the push mechanisms in Year Zero games, and potentially encouraging an confrontational relationship between the GM and the players; and, on Facebook a new GM was eager to play Coriolis but not comfortable with worship of the icons being so embedded in the mechanics. These two discussions made me think of something I had not thought of before. Something that in retrospect I am surprised I have not already considered. Now, forgive me, readers, but I am going to use you as a sounding board.
But before that, an aside. In our long running Coriolis campaign, Mercy of the Icons, we have reached the last act, In the Shadow of the Zenith (on our Youtube stream at least – the podcast version is some months behind). I recently re-read something that on consideration makes me a little … well, angry. So please bear with me as I have a little rant. You will find the offending lines on page 204 of The Last Cyclade, I will quote it with redactions to be spoiler free:
No new DP are generated at the beginning of the act but it contains two major events that replenish your DP pool: the moment the [redacted] is announced and when the [redacted] (pages 211 and 214)Antroia, R. 2020. The Last Cyclade, Stockholm Fria Ligan AB
Now, I have never, never felt the need to top up the DP pool at the beginning of an act, but I resent the idea that when bad things happen (and yes, the two redacted events are bad things) the GM is awarded Darkness Points. The WHOLE POINT of Darkness points is to fuel the bad things in the story. When bad things happen the GM spends DP, they should not be getting more! I am going to be berating Rickard Antroia over this.
Right rant over.
Now, the meat of the article. Let us address the second discussion first. Personally I love that icon worship is embedded in the mechanics of the game, and I would not play Coriolis without it. What you do at your table is entirely up to you, but I think you are missing the point of Coriolis if you don’t have the players worshipping the icons. Seriously though – the are alternatives if you don’t want to pray. The simplest would be to port Alien’s stress over – or rather to port the more interesting setting of the third Horizon into Alien.
But you could also with a bit more work, port over conditions from Vaesen or Tales from the Loop, or with a lot more work (and different coloured dice) stat damage from Forbidden Lands or Mutant Year Zero. All of these games are religion free (yes there are gods in Forbidden Lands, and Priests even in Vaesen, but you don’t have to do anything about them, mechanically) and they are also more elegant, less confrontational cost mechanics for those people who like the prayer in Coriolis but don’t like darkness points.
We have often talked on the show, however, about how the push mechanic changes the spirit of the game. Foe example how Vaesen and Tales of the Loop are minimal -rolling games, where the chances of failure are high and players often look to talk their way out of difficult situations. How the stress mechanic of Alien emulates the tone of the films. How pushing in Forbidden Lands and Mutant Year Zero adds to the feel of resource management in these post-apocalyptic survival games.
So if you want to play in the spiritual, mystical future of the Third Horizon, you need a mechanic that reflects or more importantly encourages religiosity.
And I suddenly realised that we have one. In our Tales of the Old West game, we are looking at a period when colonisation of the American West was explicitly driven by “Manifest Destiny” and our push mechanic revolves around Faith. We say (in what I think is a latest revision):
Every character has faith. This can be their religious faith, faith in their family, faith in their own self-belief, or anything else. Each player should write their Outlook down in one short sentence of half a dozen words.Semark, D. and Tyler-Jones, M. (unpublished) Tales of the Old West
Now we do make clear that Faith does not need to be Christian, or even religious, but this is a time when most of the people in the stories of the West go to church. Each character also has a pool of Faith Points. These are connected to their faith, and are spent to Push their rolls. At the start of each adventure, a character will have 2 Faith Points, but you earn more Faith Points in play.
We describe a number of ways in which a character can earn faith, many of which reflect the tropes of the western genre that we are trying to emulate. Some are momentary actions or events. For example:
- Taking an action that moves you towards your Big Dream
- Experience something that tests and affirms your Outlook
- Put yourself in danger to help a pardner (your pardner also earns a Faith Point – through your sacrifice you have affirmed their faith too)
- Every time you score 4 or more successes on an Ability test
- Stand up to a rival
- Choose non-violence when violence is the only option
- Serve frontier justice
- Take revenge
- Survive an illness
- You save a life, or
- Pray to your god, ancestors or spirits
Other things are rituals which we say take longer, a whole shift in game terms.
- Get drunk (getting drunk has other negative effects)
- Spend time on your own in nature
- Groom your horse (or a companion animal)
- Dismantle and clean your gun (or sharpen your blade)
- Participate in a church service or equivalent ritual with others
- Share a quality meal around a table with friends (around a campfire does not count)
- Sleep one full night in a secure warm bed, earn two Faith Points if it’s with your lover (but no points if it’s with a soiled dove – this is about companionship, not sex)
Some of these last rituals won’t work in the Third Horizon and the sci-fi stories players are trying to create, but I can imagine other ones that are more fitting the setting, for example: giving alms to the poor; or, making a sacrifice at a chapel – the core book lists the sort of sacrifices that each Icon prefers.
We also (currently) have rules for mishaps, but I don’t think they are relevant to this discussion. Many Coriolis GMs say that though they might pay darkness points when bad things happen in Coriolis, in any other game they would make those things happen anyway when narratively appropriate.
Which brings us on to cost. The Year Zero Engine is all about the cost of a reroll: stress and panic in Alien; banes, or attribute damage in Forbidden Lands; Conditions in Vaesen. What should the cost of prayer be? Currently, I am going to argue that with the Faith system, the cost is paid up front. The time you take role-playing your devotion and collecting faith points is enough for the somewhat pulpy nature of the game. Of course that would mean that we must let the GM make those bad things happen at will, and maybe give each super-natural creature a small pool of its own points to use its powers.
At least that’s what I think right now, but its an unfinished thought, a work in progress as it were. There are still unanswered questions, like whether mystic powers and talents are powered with Faith (I think they are).
I would be interested in your feedback.