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The Dungeon Master's Journal of the Unquiet Lands

Far Eastern Wonderland #1 - inception of a homebrew work in progress

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Continuing on my quest to come up with a satisfying set of rules for a Touhou-inspired role-playing game set in the fantasy land of Gensoukyou, I'm finally biting the bullet and sitting down to some homebrew stew. I want something that will capture the ornate tactics of a spellcard duel, so fourth edition D&D will be the backbone, probably with some influence from 13th Age. Naturally, I don't want to have to reinvent the wheel, so the two English-language Touhou rpgs that already exist, Flowery Barrage Adventures and Tale of Phantasmal Land, will be at my disposal as well. Beyond that, I'm willing to throw in whatever works. Let's see where it gets us. The working title is Far Eastern Wonderland.

The results are not intended to be a role-playing game system for public use. That is to say, anyone is welcome to try using it, but don't blame me if you find yourself working with an unplayable lump of a game. The rules stem from and are geared to my own strengths and weaknesses. I'm publishing this design process in my blog so that anyone playing in my games can follow along and provide input on the results.

For the first installment, I just want to cover some basic ideas and namings.

Levels 1

The inhabitants of Gensoukyou seem to be a pretty egalitarian bunch. Fairies, demons, humans, and gods are all rubbing shoulders with each other. This suggests that there's either no level system, or the difference between the top and the bottom isn't very pronounced. Let's temporarily ignore levels, reserving the right to plug them back in later.

Conclusion: no levels (for now)

Attributes 1
Chosen attributes should be ones that see a lot of usage. If nobody's engaging in feats of strength, then it doesn't much matter whether a character is a hulk or a weakling. I don't want to swamp players with tons of attributes, nor do I want to have so few that they don't tell me anything about what a character is like. For starters, let's use the number common to D&D: six.

The classic attributes of D&D are Strength, Intelligence, Wisdom, Dexterity, Constitution, and Charisma. As mentioned before, most denizens of Gensoukyou don't spend their days hauling around loot or swinging swords, so Strength can be modeled by feats, skills, or special features. Similarly, Wisdom doesn't look like it provides a great deal of competitive advantage in a setting where foolish fairies win the day nearly as often as learned sages.

Dexterity seems to be an important attribute, given that fights are highly mobile affairs. It's important enough that Dexterity by itself would probably be the attribute everyone would be gunning for, if allowed. Let's apply Solomon's solution to that temptation by splitting it in half, so Dexterity becomes Aim and Agility.

What about Intelligence? There does seem to be a correlation between learning and power in this setting. A human with sufficient knowledge can learn a large array of magic, where innately magical creatures are limited to a single theme. Also, characters regularly disdain to show their full hand. Seemingly weak opponents may turn out to be formidable characters who chose to throw a fight rather than revealing too much. To avoid making Intelligence too all-encompassing, let's carve it into Learning and Cunning, the latter replacing Wisdom.

Constitution seems to be a meaningful factor, but a character's ability to keep fighting is as much about their will to do so as it is about their pure physical capability. We'll retrieve the "willpower" component of Wisdom and combine it with Constitution to create the attribute of Perseverance.

Charisma seems to have a significant impact, as one would expect in a bounded world where characters tend toward being near-equals. At the same time, nobody is so blindingly charismatic that they can rally everyone to their cause without lifting a finger. For the moment, let's keep Charisma unchanged.

How should we "pair" these attributes? It may not be necessary to, but for now how about Aim and Learning, Agility and Cunning, and Perseverance and Charisma?

Conclusion: six attributes
  • Aim (Aim)
  • Learning (Lrn)
  • Agility (Agi)
  • Cunning (Cng)
  • Perseverance (Psv)
  • Charisma (Cha)

Attributes 2
Until we have some kind of advancement system, there's not much reason to use the old 3-18+ scale for attributes. How about we just define attributes by the bonuses and penalties they convey? An attribute with no bonus corresponds to an attribute score of 10-11 in D&D.

Method I of the Player's Handbook gives an unadjusted total bonus of +7, so let's use that for starting attributes. To avoid the situation where a player throws that entire bonus into one attribute, constraints will be added that will mirror standard D&D character creation rules. What the bonuses actually apply to will be the subject of a later section.

  • Starting PCs get +7 in bonuses to divide among their six attributes.
  • One attribute can have a -1 penalty, in which case PCs will have +8 in bonuses to divide among the remaining five.
  • No attribute can start with a bonus of higher than +4.
  • Only one attribute can have a +4 bonus after the initial distribution.

Races 1
Most people can agree that Gensoukyou is populated by humans, fairies, and apparitions (known as youkai). After that, consensus breaks down. Let's consider five overarching races in the setting: humans, fairies, apparitions, demons, and gods. Also, let's make gods an NPC race, because being a god comes with a bunch of distracting duties that can interfere with having a good, old-fashioned adventure. Also, races are a term that is used loosely, and does not imply any genetic characteristics. Fairies are a spontaneous creation of nature. Apparitions can have any number of origins, including starting life as a human being. Demons and gods also have a very unclear boundary with apparitions.

Humans are easy: let's make them D&D humans. As much as we can, let's re-skin existing races to cover the new ones. The bewildering variety of characters encountered in Gensoukyou comes from the seemingly endless array of apparition types. The one quality they all have in common, though, is that they can more-or-less pass for being human in appearance.

Conclusion: five races, maybe more or less, numerous sub-races
Humans: humans, maybe half-elves too (human polymaths like Marisa could be built as a half-elf, perhaps)
Fairies: pixies, gnomes (, maybe some other fey types, maybe halflings
Demons: tieflings (these might make good oni or Touhou-style vampires, if vampires are part of the demon race), maybe eladrin (again, possibly vampires)
Apparitions: catch-all for everything else, but must have a human form or appearance
Gods: NPCs only

Skills 1
I want to keep skills as close as possible to the original list. However, I want to replace skills that never see use in Gensoukyou (e.g. Dungeoneering) with different skills that are employed more commonly in the setting.

Which skills don't see a lot of use besides Dungeoneering? Streetwise would definitely be one. Also, some of the other Charisma-based skills, Bluff and Diplomacy, could use with some renaming to reflect how they are more often employed in the setting. Let's refer to them as Artifice and Presentment, respectively. As for the specifics of new and renamed skills, that's for a future section.

What to replace Dungeoneering and Streetwise with? Both have to do with knowing about or obtaining resources from a commonly encountered environment. Gensoukyou is a wilderness land, and its inhabitants have to be fairly capable and self-sufficient. This means a skill like Nature might be more valuable than other skills, so let's split it like we did with some of the attributes. If we peel off "Agriculture" from Nature, we can reserve Nature for the "untamed fields" while Agriculture is a more resource-type skill that has to do with cooking, gardening, and also a knowledge skill useful in identifying creatures that have to do with more civilized settings, such as apparitions that spawn from tools.

One can almost make a case for including Streetwise, because the trappings of civilization are not all that distant. Let's go with a skill called Discernment that can be employed in the identification of items, their uses, and their value.

The other issue is how to cluster the skills to attributes. If we're keeping skills like Athletics but jettisoning attributes like Strength, where do we put them? Here's a first attempt:
  • Aim-based Skills: Perception, Thievery
  • Learning-based Skills: Agriculture, Arcana, Heal, History, Nature, Religion
  • Agility-based Skils: Acrobatics, Stealth
  • Cunning-based Skills: Discernment, Insight
  • Perseverance-based Skills: Athletics, Endurance
  • Charisma-based Skills: Artifice, Intimidate, Presentment

Looking at the list, the six skills clumped together under Learning look large compared to the other attributes, and it wouldn't be bad if Cunning had one more skill to its name. Also, it's tempting to change Heal into something like Apothecary or Herbalism. Let's choose Apothecary for now. What skill requires more cunning than learning? Nature might be one, but what about Religion?

In most settings, the answer would probably be Nature, but religion in Gensoukyou is surprisingly dynamic and free-wheeling. In fact and owing to the lack of other governmental structures, the competition and rivalries between the unusually large number of sects drives the politics of the region more than any other factor. Members of established religions spend their time on schemes to gather followers and donations, while hermits steal or stumble upon revelation. Let's see how far we can get by making Religion an exercise in Cunning, then.

Conclusion: 17 skills in the following clusters

  • Aim-based Skills: Perception, Thievery
  • Learning-based Skills: Agriculture, Apothecary, Arcana, History, Nature
  • Agility-based Skils: Acrobatics, Stealth
  • Cunning-based Skills: Discernment, Insight, Religion
  • Perseverance-based Skills: Athletics, Endurance
  • Charisma-based Skills: Artifice, Intimidate, Presentment

It feels like Gensoukyou from a static viewpoint, but we've barely touched on any actual mechanics. At the same time, not a lot of effort was expended to get this far, which is good. Big ticket items to consider next are some kind of class system, secondary attributes such as hit points and defenses, and maybe one or two character write-ups.

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  1. yukonhorror's Avatar
    while it seems like you put a LOT of effort into this, if it "craps out" system-wise, I would suggest HERO 6th edition. A) clean fun system. B) universal/generic - you get to make it whatever you want it C)easily adaptable (versus other generic/universal systems)