New Rules: Origin Stories

There's more than one way to skin a catOrigin Story Rules – Playtest Draft

Every hero (and villain) has an origin story. In the world of Base Raiders, these stories are no longer tales of accidental empowerment. Those who gain superpowers choose to do so, although the circumstances vary tremendously. Some gain their powers after weeks of careful planning while others take them in a moment of desperation. Regardless, the origin story of a base raider can make for an exciting adventure, so why not role play through it? The following rules provide modifications to character creation and scenario design. It assumes the player characters are mundane civilians with no special powers or abilities before the adventure begins.

We playtested these rules on the RPPR Actual Play Podcast, using the scenario seed, Transit, for the plot. You can listen to the first playtest here. Transit will eventually be turned into a full adventure for Base Raiders.

The following rules will allow players and gamemasters to run origin story adventures. If you would like to run an adventure for your group using these rules, we’d love to hear about it. Email us with details about your experiences using the rules. What worked and what didn’t work? Did your players enjoy the game? We want to hear from you!

Character Creation

Origin stories assume that the protagonists are relatively mundane. They may be non-human, mutant, an ex-henchman or sidekick, but they have no superpowers that distinguish them from the rest of the population. Players should build a low power character with 20 skill points and 6 refresh. Change the following steps of character creation:

1. Do not pick an Archetype yet. Player characters gain their Archetype during the game, when they receive a Strange skill. You still pick a background aspect and conviction. Characters can choose any of the four backgrounds. Their conviction should represent the character’s belief before they gain any powers.

2. Characters only need to answer question 1, Life Before Ragnarok. The character should pick an aspect from that question.

3. When buying skills, you do not need to spend all of your skill points. You may leave some skill points unspent, so they can be used to pay for Strange skills acquired during the game. Skills always need to follow the skill pyramid so if you want a new Strange skill to start at a higher level than +1, leave a blank spot in your skill pyramid for it to go in.

4. Origin Story characters do not receive a Gift during character creation. The first Gift is only acquired after the character gains at least one Strange skill.

5. You should only have 2 or 3 aspects filled in: background, conviction, and possibly one relating to Life before Ragnarok.

EXAMPLE CHARACTER

Name: Valerie Fincher

Concept: Villain obsessed Otaku

ASPECTS

Background: My fangirl Tumblr is so popular!

Conviction: Obsess over all the Villains!

Personal Aspect: I’d be hikkomorri if I could :\

 Skills:

Good (+3): Computers, Investigation

Fair (+2): Arcana, Contacting

Average (+1): Alertness, Art, Technology, Resources, Resolve, Science

4 skill points unspent

Tier Benefits: +1 Composure

Refresh: 6

Life Before Ragnarok: Valerie is fascinated with villains. Some would even say obsessed. She writes about them, draws fan art, and discusses them with like-minded fans on the Internet. She sees most villains as misunderstood activists, not as terrorists or ruthless criminal masterminds. She’s picked up some knowledge of science and magic based on her fangirldom, but it’s also isolated her from most of her peers. Despite her awkwardness in real life, she has many Internet friends she can use for her contacting skill.

Gaining Superpowers

There are two approaches to players gaining Strange skills in an Origin Story game.

GM Chosen: The GM creates a scenario in which the players are given access to multiple power sources. The players choose from available power sources, but the GM may limit what information they know about the power sources or impose additional limitations, such as a limited time to make a decision. Some GMs may provide a small pool of available powers or create a large list of powers and require players to roll on a random table to gain their powers.

Player Chosen: The player designs what Strange skills they want to end up, but the GM decides the circumstances in which the power source appears. The player creates one or more Strange skills and then discusses with the GM what kind of power source works with that Strange skill. For example, if a player wants an energy blast, the GM can design a super soldier drug or alien artifact that grants this Strange skill.

Both choices can make for an exciting scenario, but the entire group should decide which one should be used before the game commences. Some players want control over their powers while others find the idea of a random power more appealing.

Unusual Backgrounds and Archetypes

Some players may want to play a non-human character who has innate superpowers, like an android or mutant. In this case, the Origin Story covers the period of time in which the character’s abilities manifest for the first time. The player designs his character as a normal Origin Story character but instead of relying on a power source, the GM decides what will trigger the character’s powers. It could an external event, like a life-threatening danger that causes the character’s abilities to kick in or a conscious decision by the character to embrace his true nature. The player and GM should discuss how the trigger works and what kind of powers the character should get before the GM runs the scenario.

Gifts in an Origin Story

Player Characters may receive their gifts during their Origin Story. As with Strange skills, they may be GM or player chosen. A companion should appear in the game as a NPC who befriends the player character. Equipment can be part of a base’s loot.

The other gifts (Impact, Signature Aspect, Skilled, and Theme) can represent the character’s previously-undiscovered potential or talent for a particular ability. In this case, the GM may activate the new gift at any time during the scenario in which it makes sense.

Designing Power Sources

A power source is an item or process that grants a Strange skill to a user. They are not item-based powers, which use the rules on page 186. The key difference between a power source and an item-based power is simple: the power source imbues the user with a Strange skill, allowing the user to use the Strange skill independently of the power source. An item based power is dependent on the item – if you remove the item from the user, the user loses the power.

Every power source has the following characteristics:

Type: This summarizes what shape the power source takes. It can be an object, like a drug, magical scroll, or pill. It could also be a process like a magical ritual or radiation treatment. It could even be both, like a cybernetic implant which first be installed through a surgical operation. Keep in mind the type will specify how much bulk it takes, if any.

Cost: The cost of the new Strange skill in terms of skill points and refresh. Note that this does not include the skill point cost for the skill’s bonus. Characters need to pay additional skill points in order to actually train the skill – in other words, it costs 1 skill point to raise the new Strange skill to Average. Otherwise, any rolls made with the skill are rolled at +0. Characters must pay the entire cost of the Strange skill’s trappings before they can train the skill.

Power: The Strange Skill granted by the power source. A power source can only grant 1 Strange skill. If you wish to create a power source that grants multiple powers, combine all of the Strange skills into one by tallying all of the trappings and calculating the appropriate skill point cost.

Time to Gain Power: How long it takes for the power source to imbue a character with the Strange skill. This time may be changed for the purposes of dramatic effect. The time should include all the processes required of the power source. A character does not receive the Strange skill until this time has ended. For example, a character who finds a cybernetic implant does not gain the benefit of it until the installation surgery is complete.

Description: This summarizes what the power source does to the user, how it is used, and any additional rules unique to this power source. If skill tests are required to use the power source, they should be listed here.

Example power sources are listed on page 187 of Base Raiders.

Miscibility in Origin Story Games

Low power level characters are unlikely to be able to fully afford a new Strange skill and as a result will receive negative side effects. See the Advanced Power Interaction rules on page 182 for more details. This may slow down or stop a game if the GM is not prepared to deal with the consequences of low power characters burdened by side effects and have to roll a +0 on their new superpowers (remember that a character cannot raise a skill until the cost of its trappings are fully paid off.)

In order to keep the game moving, the GM should design the origin story game with these options in mind:

1. Call to Action: A GM may allow player characters to receive a power level bump as soon as they gain their first Strange skill – in effect, taking their first step towards becoming a hero (or villain.) The player character gains +2 refresh and +5 skill points, effectively upgrading them to a mid power level character. These bonuses should be used to pay for the new Strange skill, so the character doesn’t suffer from miscibility consequences.

2. Skilled Gift: The GM may allow characters to receive their first Skilled gift when they gain their first Strange skill. This gives them +5 skill points to pay for the cost of the new Strange skill. Player characters can also buy the Skilled Gift again, at the cost of 1 Refresh per +5 skill points.

3. Skill Point Investment: Unspent skill points can be applied to a new Strange skill immediately. Players can design their Origin Story character with their eventual Strange skill in mind, allowing them to set aside skill points.

4. Power Tiers: Don’t forget that power tier differences make a huge difference in skill rolls. Even untrained, a superhuman tier Strange skill is extremely potent against mundane power tier enemies and obstacles. Origin Story antagonists and challenges should mostly be set at the mundane power tier.

5. Aspects: Once a player character gains their first Strange Skill, they gain at least 1 new aspect, namely their archetype. They may also gain additional aspects if the Strange skill has complications, convictions, or the player gains miscibility consequences. The archetype aspect can be invoked to gain +2 bonus or a reroll for a skill test, which can be crucial in the game. Negative aspects should be compelled on a regular basis to feed the player Fate points.

Power Sources and Loot

Power Sources are extremely valuable in the black market. The exact value of a power source should be determined by the GM, based on its usefulness. Easy to use power sources that grant trivial powers are not as valuable as a hard to use power source that grants an extremely potent Strange skill. A ‘average’ power source is worth 5 loot points for every skill point it costs and 20 loot points for every power tier above mundane. For example, a super soldier drug that grants a Strange skill at the superhuman power tier and costs 5 skill points is worth 65 loot points.

Running an Origin Story Game

The core of any Origin Story should revolve on how the player characters gain superpowers and what they decide to do with them. If the group knows what kind of campaign they want to run, they use this game as a prelude, to foreshadow their future careers as base raiders, vigilantes, or villains. For example, a group of college students could sneak into the university’s chemistry lab to brew their own super soldier drugs using formulas downloaded from the Internet. They need superpowers so they can revenge on the gangster who killed their friend. This sets up a vigilante themed campaign focused on crime fighting and investigation.

Origin Story games can also be a sandbox scenario in mind. The GM creates a scenario in which the player characters must gain superpowers to resolve the conflict, but have multiple choices on how to resolve the conflict. If they are confronted with an alien weapon of mass destruction, they can destroy it or they could attempt to research it or even sell it to the government.

An Origin Story game should keep these design rules in mind:

1. The key conflict should be impossible for a normal person to resolve, which is why the player characters must gain superpowers. The conflict can be one of their choosing or it can be forced on them, but if it does not require superpowers, it is not sufficiently challenging.

2. The players should be given access to power sources or given an opportunity to trigger any innate powers early on in the scenario. The players also need time to make their decision. The scene in which they gain superpowers is important, so don’t rush it.

3. Limit most enemies and skill tests to the mundane power tier. Any antagonist or obstacle at a higher power tier should be the central opposition of the scenario.

 Example Origin Story scenarios

Transit: Commuters in the subway are stranded in a tunnel after a group of robots armed with plasma cannons attack the subway station. After fleeing the robots, the commuters stumble across the base of a masked crime boss. The base contains a cache of power sources but the commuters also find out that someone else broke into the base shortly before and accidentally released something dangerous into the city. The commuters will need to gain superpowers in order to escape robot-infested tunnels and save the city.

X Marks the Spot: A mutual friend of all of the characters invites them to a remote location. There, he reveals he has mastered a grimoire and summoned a spirit to do his bidding. The friend shows the spirit to all of the characters and asks it to make him rich. The spirit tells him of a buried treasure beyond imagining nearby. The treasure is a base filled with power sources. One of the characters triggers a trap that frees the spirit, who then promises revenge on the mortals for enslaving it. The characters need to gain superpowers if they are to survive the spirit’s vendetta.

The Contractors: A gang of criminals has found a base but they are afraid of exploring it. They trick or force the player characters into the base and promise them freedom and a big payday if they return with something valuable from the base. The characters realize the criminals will probably kill them when they return, so they must gain superpowers if they want to survive.

  3 comments for “New Rules: Origin Stories

  1. Garrett
    November 5, 2013 at 12:26 am

    How would you custom tailor the Origin Stories experience if a PC wanted to play a clone of a super hero or villain or an alien refugee from one of the past invasions?

    You mentioned “Unusual Backgrounds and Archetypes

    Some players may want to play a non-human character who has innate superpowers, like an android or mutant. In this case, the Origin Story covers the period of time in which the character’s abilities manifest for the first time. ”

    But as a clone wouldn’t you wake up on a tube? Or would you suddenly realize your memories were a lie? For the alien… you molt into your adult form? Any ideas would be helpful. 🙂

  2. admin
    November 5, 2013 at 3:31 am

    The Origin Story game mechanics focus on the Strange skills/superpowers of characters. Any memories or skills would work, as long as they don’t provide an unfair advantage over the other player characters.

    A clone could wake up in a tube with some memories from the original, but as long as those memories don’t allow it to bypass the adventure without any difficulty, then it’s fine. We don’t players to say ‘oh but I should know all the passwords to get into the base and disable the deathbots. Oh and I should be able to manifest my powers right now and I should be as strong as the original etc.’

    For an alien, it wakes up as an adult, but without any knowledge of its superpowers or abilities.

    Does that help or should I explain it more?

    • Garrett
      November 5, 2013 at 7:24 pm

      No that makes sense. I wanted my character bio to make sense.

      “Grey Prime is a clone of one of the “Grey” alien invaders from the 1950’s. But that makes the story sound much more glamorous that it really was. She was a science experiment a couple of college students performed in secret with what they were learning of advanced bio-tech. When they realized that their experiment had reached the point where it either needed to be destroyed or allowed to “be born” they decided to raise “their child” in secret. (They also found out that Mindy was pregnant and terminating one “child” felt too much akin to terminating the other.)

      Grey Prime is still a child and is emotionally immature but his intellect is growing at an astounding rate (using human standards).

      His human parents have named him Wolfgang but he likes to think of himself as “Grey Prime” because he is a Grey and prime numbers are special just like him.

      He has a rivalry with his “brother” Icarus (who is a child prodigy and also possesses a “gifted” intelligence) and is jealous that Icarus is able to go to school and visit the outside, whereas Wolfgang has had to be home-schooled in relative isolation. Grey Prime is also upset that “legally” he would be considered more of a “pet” than a child, something Icarus is quick to point out.

      He is 12 years old, full of genius, rage and a desire change.”

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