Getting ‘Passionate’ about d100

This post on building a d100 campaign game for a fantasy renaissance setting is about passions. Passions are traits that define a character in a way that links them mechanically to what the game is about (I am thinking of questions 4 and 5 on the Power 19 list). As well as covering how passions are handled in Runequest in Glorantha (RQG) and in Mythras, I will look at some adjacent rule concepts from several other roleplaying game systems, and then try to draw some conclusions as to what is the best fit for my campaign concept.

Call of Cthulhu does not use passions, but a key connection in your player character (PC) background can aid in restoring lost Sanity points. Passions are not a mechanic in Basic Roleplaying either.

Passions in Runequest in Glorantha

Each character starts with three passions at 60%, plus or minus any life path modifications (the quick start version is add up to three more passions at 60%, increase one passion by 20% and another by 10%). Passions are capped at 100% during PC creation. The passions are determined by starting homeland. Common passions include:

  • Devotion (Deity)
  • Fear (type or individual)
  • Hate (group or individual)
  • Honour
  • Loyalty (temple, leader, or group such as clan, city, or tribe)
  • Love (individual or group

In play, invoking a passion is an instantaneous action. A passion (and runes and skills) can be used to augment another relevant ability (at GM’s discretion). Only one inspiration check may be attempted per ability, and a passion can only be used once per game session to augment. A check is made:

  • Critical Success: add +50% to the ability being used
  • Special Success: add +30% to the ability being used
  • Success: add +20% to the ability being used
  • Failure: -20% to the ability being used
  • Fumble: -50% to the ability being used. This can also reduce passion score by 1d10% and induce a state of helpless despair for up to three days.

If invoked for a battle scene, the augmentation lasts the entire fight.

The GM can also ask for a player to check a passion before proceeding with an action, for example a character with Fear (Dragons) would have to fail a Passion Fear (Dragons) check before taking part in a dragon hunt. If a Passion is ranked at 80%+, the GM can ask for mandatory checks, to represent how staunchly held the belief or connection is to the character. For example, if you hate someone and encounter them, you may need to check in order to not immediately attack them, regardless of consequences. Not acting in accord with our passions can see your passions drop – the examples in the rules are for people with passions of 80+%, dropping down to some level below 80% if they “refuse the call” (exactly how far is a GM call, but I would hesitate to drop it below the starting level of 60%, perhaps you could say “80 minus a 1d20 roll”). Some spells buff (by 20%) or create passions (at 60%), and spells of logic prevent you from making passion checks while they are active.

Characters in RQG are more likely to belong to a community, than to be lawless murder hobos. Loyalty passions to communities and leaders can be used to gain support in adventures, but a failure on the check could have consequences for the community or your patron. The Honour passion has a long list of taboos, which if violated will cost you honour. There is no discretion here – honour has a universal shared interpretation in the setting. For example, killing an unarmed foe reduces honour by 5%, oath breaking by 25%, and kin slaying by 50%. I will have some thoughts below on what an honour code rooted in a renaissance setting might look like, compared to the Bronze Age inspired RQG setting.

Passions, including honour, are increased from experience in the same way as skills, rolling d100 over the current passion level to improve it by 1d6%.

Reputation reflects fame, notoriety, and renown – including both your deeds and those of your ancestors. Reputation reflects how likely an NPC has heard of a PC before meeting them. Reputation can also be used to impress people as an augmentation for social skills. Reputation has a much lower starting score than a passion, 5% plus bonuses from life path. Looking at the example characters in RQG, a starting reputation could be anywhere from 0% to 20%. Overall I find the reputation system a good reflection of the boasting that is present in Bronze Age epics.

Reputation gains are handled differently in RQG from passions. Reputation can be gained from battles, and other actions that draw attention – eg marriages, mighty oaths, heroic quests, owning magic items, or becoming a rune master. It cannot be increased through experience. Negative as well as positive deeds can increase it. Reputation grants are normally at the GM’s discretion (success on a Battle skill check is an exception). Reputation is also geographical, you get a bonus of +25% with your clan, and up to -75% if you are far away from home. I am not seeing any method for reputation being reduced. I suspect you need to decide at the table whether a PC is more well known for their infamous deeds than their heroic deeds.

Picture from RQG

Passions in Mythras

Passions are an optional but recommended rule in Mythras. Unlike RQG, Mythras is a toolkit system for building your own setting (or running a published setting), and not a rule system fully integrated into one setting. Passions represent loyalties and allegiances, strongly held beliefs or ideals, and emotions towards someone or something. There are four human cultures (Barbarian, Civilised, Nomadic, and Primitive) and each has its own set of passions. For example, the Barbarian culture has the following cultural passions:

  • Loyalty to Clan Chieftain
  • Love (friend, sibling, or romantic lover)
  • Hate (creature, rival, or clan).

Passions are part of the PCs connection to community, along with family, contacts, and background events. The starting value of a passion is 30% plus some combination of POW+CHA, or POW+INT, or POWx2 depending on the type of passion. So a starting value of 52-54% for a character with average stats. Most starting characters will have three passions (you might acquire one as a background event).

In play passions have the following uses:

  • Augmenting another skill by one fifth of its value
  • A way to identify how strongly the character feels about an issue
  • To oppose other passions
  • To measure depth of commitment to a cause
  • To resist psychological manipulation or magical domination, passion may be substituted for Willpower.

Opposed rolls with passions are usually Passion versus Passion, Passion versus Insight, or Passion versus Influence.

Passions can be improved as skills, or increased or decreased by the GM. They can be established at any point in time, and new passions cost 0 XP to create.. When the GM mandates a change in a psassion, it can be weak +/- 1d10, moderate +/- 1d10+5, or strong +/- 1d10+10. Some spells and spirits influence passions. A nice touch is that the chance of a Resurrect spell working on someone is influenced by passion, including the possibility of resisting a return to life!

In the GM advice section, passions get attention around:

  • being a reason for the party to be together
  • as an augmentation in combat
  • advice on using passions to drive behaviour in the campaign.

Reflecting on Using Passions in a Campaign

My Tarantium campaign used Mythras style passions with mixed outcomes. Its been a few years, but I think for most of the players, they largely only invoked one passion as a signature for their character. As the GM I got a little frustrated with the “Mother May I?” game of fishing for bonuses. I prefer the greater weight attached to passions in RQG, where the decision to seek inspiration from passion to augment a skill must be weighed against the risks of failure and despair. The one use for inspiration per session limit also encourages a player to consider the full range of their passions, not just their favourite or highest scoring passion.

My other disconnect with Mythras is that use of the passions did not link to the XP system. Where RQG allows a tick to check for improvement whenever a skill is used, Mythras by default uses a fixed XP per session system. This gives the players freedom to spend XP as they see fit. With a suggested 2-4 XP per session or adventure, players have to choose between improving skills (1 XP per roll), boosting ability scores (variable cost, but can be more than 10 XP), opening new skills (cost 3 XP), learning spells (3 or 5 XP), and improving passions (1 XP per roll). My players found it difficult to justify investing in improving passions over learning spells, and they always wanted to improve combat style, magic, willpower, endurance, and evade skills first – and that is 5 XP you need out of your 4 XP allotment from a generous GM.

The Mythras rules were first published as Runequest 6 in 2012, while RQG was published in 2018. While the two books are from different companies, I can’t help but think that experience with Mythras over the intervening years informed the development of passions in RQG. Both sets of rules are worth reading for their advice, but in RQG they are a more integrated mechanic than in Mythras. The other point of comparison here is that Mythras defaults to three passions at the start of the campaign, while RQG has six passions per character. That makes sense considering invoking RQG passions for augmenting checks are one use per session, while Mythras passions are always available.

Additional thoughts for me going forward:

  • If a passion is not catching fire at the table – ask the players if it is still relevant to their character.
  • In session zero, make sure the characters have some internal conflict in their passions, so that it can drive some interesting choices for them in play about who their character really is.
  • In session zero, the group should have a discussion about conflicting passions between PCs and where they might go as the campaign evolves – I don’t need one PC stabbing another PC because “It’s what my character would do!”
  • Make sure that the fluid shifting nature of passions is present in representing change in characters.

Alternatives to Passions

I am going to look at some different takes on passions, from five other game systems, and how I could adapt those ideas into a d100 game:

  • Swords of the Serpentine: This GUMSHOE game asks players to jot down some adjectives and drives to describe their character. For the drives, SOTS asks you to answer the question from the 1982 Conan movie “What three things are best in life?” Drives can be invoked in play for a small bonus (a +1 on a d6 die roll, ignoring a penalty for a round), and can be changed at any time. Simple, focused, and flexible. A reminder to try and make my own rules and setting fluff as short and direct as possible.
Swords of the Serpentine
  • Burning Wheel: Of the games listed here, BW is the one I have the least experience with. Some characters have specific emotional abilities, such as Faith, Grief, Greed, and Hatred (for human, elf, dwarf, and orc heritages respectively). Each character must also choose specific beliefs – the three top priorities of fundamental ethical or moral importance for their character. Beliefs are meant to be challenged, betrayed, and broken in play. Artha (fate points) are earned by playing in accordance with your beliefs. Relationships are more usually handled by the Circle mechanic. BW is a tightly bound system, the instinct mechanic is perhaps its most modular feature (choose a condition and a reaction, using always, never, when, or if/then statements). I will come back to the Duel of Wits mechanic when I post about social actions.
  • FATE: Aspects in FATE are a fractal mechanic – just about everything in the game can be described in Aspects. They link directly into the Fate Points that are the metacurrency used to fuel player actions in the game. I especially like the advice for creating aspects: “The best aspects are double-edged, say more than one thing, and keep the phrasing simple.” (emphasis in the original). For PCs, FATE asks you to come up with both a high concept and trouble aspects. PCs are expected to be exceptional and interesting. The high concept is a phrase that sums up what your character is about—who they are and what they do. For example, your high concept could be Knight of the Round Table. Trouble aspects represent personal struggles and problematic relationships. Personal struggles are about your darker side or impulses that are hard to control. Perhaps the Knight is a Poor Loser at Tournaments. Problematic relationships are about people or organizations that make your life hard, so the knight could have Lover of the Fae Queen. Maybe I could have use of Passions as a recharge mechanic for luck points?
  • 13th Age: Two mechanics are of interest to me from this game. First is the One Unique Thing that each player can specify for their character – explicit permission to make your character as awesome as you want. The main restriction is that its not there to provide combat utility, so it should impact more on social and exploration activities. I would also add that your unique should not close off options to the other players (ie don’t choose “Last elf in the world” if another player also wants to play an elf). Second are the Icons, 13 major factions in the setting, each personified by a distinctive leader (eg the Priestess, the Crusader, the Warlord). Characters can take up to three icon relationships, which can be positive, hostile, or ambiguous. For the GM, player icon choice is a clear signal as to the type of game the players want to experience, and Icons with no PC relationships can fade out of view.
  • Pendragon: possibly the first game to feature passions, as strong emotions that can be invoked for inspiration. The initial passions for knights are set to Loyalty (Lord), Love (Family), Hospitality, Honor, and sometimes a Hatred. As in RQG, there is a risk to invoking passions, a failure could impose conditions of shock, melancholy, or madness. I also like the Glory mechanic, a mix of reputation and experience. In a game that spans decades and generations, 10% of your final Glory score for a PC is inherited by their heir. A typical year of heroic adventures might net you 300 Glory, and you need 32,000 Glory to be considered a legendary knight! At 1,000+ Glory a Knight gets a bonus point every Winter phase to improve their various abilities. Traits and Passions ranked at 16+ can gain you bonus Glory. Maybe I could have Reputation as bonus skill points for replacement characters mid-campaign, allowing a bit of a catch up with more experienced PCs.
Pendragon

My Design Choices

I will probably use the RQG passion mechanics as the base for my campaign. What does this mean in the context of a fantasy renaissance setting, where my players have indicated a desire for ambiguous factions and mission driven play?

The important thing is that the Setting fits the Characters and the Characters fit in the Setting.

Troy Costisick, ‘What are the ‘Power 19′ ? pt 2’, 26 January 2006.

So the passions need to both fit the context of the setting, and be appealing to the players to choose for their characters. So what passions make sense for a renaissance setting, for ambiguous factions, and mission driven play?

First, ambiguous factions suggests against using default clean cut loyalties to clans or other social organisations. This could be a game of artists, where the primary social passions are the relationships with a circle of capricious patrons who all happen to be dragons that have decided art and architecture are more important than gold. The 13th Age Icons framing might work – everyone must take one positive passion, one ambiguous passion, and one hostile passion. A local focus could revolve around factions within a single city, or between rival city states. I do not want big damn empires to be a focus of the game, so the plucky rebel and evil overlord factions will not be appearing in this campaign. Otherwise the factions should be shades of grey, not black and white morality, or even use something like the five points of the Magic the Gathering alignments.

Second, mission driven play. Well “do the job, get paid” is an easy procedural loop. Ambiguous factions suggests the PCs are not permanent employees of one faction. I think its going to be on the player (or the group as a whole) to identify why it is that their characters are adventurers. What gets them out of the warm cozy tavern and into a crumbling sepulcher as the full moon starts to rise? Otherwise I am going to assign them “Adventurers who like adventuring” Passion at 60% and get Patrons to offer them dangerous jobs at low wages until the party finds their motivation. So if the campaign poses the question “What happens when all the Gods in the setting die?” then the PCs need a passion that makes them at least a little bit curious about that question. If the campaign is about love, then maybe the PCs all need an unrequited love passion, a platonic crush, or a messy three way love triangle.

Third, the renaissance. Well. This is pretty big, as it draws on a continent or two and several centuries of history on Earth. I will start with the bits of the renaissance that the campaign will not be focusing on:

  • the centralised, monarchical gunpowder empires outside of Europe (like the Ottomans or the Mughals)
  • the religious violence of the Thirty Years War or English Civil War
  • slavery
  • piracy
  • discovery, conquest, and genocide in the ‘new world’
  • church corruption and inquisitorial torture
  • witches as diabolists who have sold their souls to the devil, and are therefore Evil with a capital E.

For the areas that I think could be good for the campaign, I will present a list of what I think are the six strongest choices to the players. This list is evolving as I think about the game, and I will add setting specific colour to these generic themes, but for now its:

  1. Honour. Explore the tensions between honour as public social virtue, and honour as private self-esteem and moral rectitude. Are you driven more by guilt, shame, or fear?
  2. Rebirth. The search for ancient lore, and bringing this lost wisdom into the light of day. It is not a search for CoC grimoires that send their readers insane. What kind of secrets are you looking to discover?
  3. Ethics. Changing values in a society where divine word and holy scripture are no longer a source of authority. Do you still follow the doctrines of the fallen theocracies, or do new concepts of justice attract your interest?
  4. Change. The long medieval stasis is over and the world is changing quickly. Do you embrace or reject those changes? Are you trying to restore something that has been lost?
  5. Fate. Is the world one of destiny or free will? Do you believe the world is trapped in an eternal cycle, or is the nature of the world linear and perfectible?
  6. Reconciliation. How does the world cope with the fall of two great theocratic empires, which were previously locked in a prophecy of eternal conflict? Do you think peace and forgiveness are possible, or will the future see only war and hatred?

With an RQG spread of six passions, a possible starter set of passions for a PC could include three faction related passions, honour/reputation, a passion that links to an important philosophical concept in the setting, and the drive that makes them an adventurer. A PC could substitute one or two of the faction passions for other passions if the player prefers that.

My players have asked for a “high XP” game so that they can see “real change” in their characters. I am thinking about using a mix of the RQG XP check for skill use, plus a small number of free XP to be spent as the players wish. Using passions could be what generates the free XP (but I would not combine this with passion use also being what generates luck points as in FATE or Burning Wheel).

I think the next post in this series will be on the topic of luck.

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