A bit of help with potives and desperation?

Hi, I’m trying to recreate the setting of the Monster Blood Tattoo/Half Continent books in Torchbearer, and I had a few specific questions. One of the big ‘character abilities’ in MBT is creating and using potives - special chemicals and draughts that have extraordinary effects, like attracting or repelling monsters, creating noxious fumes or explosions, or invigorating and healing. I was wondering how to limit their creation - if I made them work like Wizard spells, that would be simpler and easier to balance, but I was thinking that it would be more realistic to require checks during camp phase. Would it be fair to require one check per potive, or is that overpowered or underpowered? The idea would be that the Skold (potive-maker) would roll to see whether the potive works when they use it, not when they make it, for more interesting twists.

Since MBT doesn’t (really) have different demi-human races, and since the whole moral of the stories is about how monstrous regular people can be, I thought I might replace Nature with Desperation for humans. When rolling Desperation, a character would count as acting ‘outside their Nature’ when acting to help others or to set up long-term plans. Only successful tests like these tax Desperation (trying to help and failing just makes your character more desperate), according to margin of success. Desperation would be advanced when there were failed tests equal to the current rating and passed tests equal to 1-the current rating. When Desperation is taxed to zero it is restored as normal but a trait is not changed - but if it falls permanently to zero the character looses their taste for the life of the adventurer. When Desperation is advanced to 7 it is reduced to 6 and the character gains a special trait like ‘Paranoid’ or ‘Unsettled’ that the GM can use against them a number of times per session equal to its rating, and which does not grant checks.

Obviously I’d have to change the rules for recovering Nature, since they tend to become active in situations where the characters feel comfortable. My main concern for the moment is just whether the concept works, and whether having the reversed success/failure results is balanced. I quite like how characters would get more powerful if they act in their own interest all the time, but eventually it starts to push them over the edge. Not sure about the mechanics though.

I think potives make the most sense as a use of the Alchemy skill. I’m not sure you would even have to do much work beyond adding the effects that are missing.

Changing Nature, however, will drastically effect the game. Characters in Torchbearer are almost always struggling, which leads to desperate decisions quite often. It’s hard for me to imagine a situation in which players wouldn’t opt to roll Desperation.

Hmm, it’s difficult. How would one create nature descriptors in a world with only one race? Maybe it could depend on culture? Or maybe on your Belief or Goal?

I think that’s the issue, really. Nature is what really defines your character (at least within the world of Torchbearer) and changing it kind of denatures (heh) the game. As it is, it stands in for skills when you don’t have them and, if attempting something beyond the scope of it, the sheer lifeforce of your character. Tapping Nature, one of the biggest tools that players have to ensure their success is tied to it as well.

I definitely wouldn’t tie it to Belief of Goal (remember: goals are things you could feasibly accomplish in one session). Culture is a possibility, but I guess I would first ask what issue you’re trying to solve?

Well, it seems a bit boring to have all the players have the same nature, if they’re all going to be human. Also, I was trying to represent better the book series, which takes place in a sort of Dickensian bio-punk world (it’s better than it sounds, honestly), and tends to meditate on the fact that, although there are horrible monsters all over the place, the most monstrous things that happen in the story are enacted by people. So Desperation seemed like a good theme, especially since there’s an effect called Threwd that monsters emanate that tends to make people nervous and put people on edge, and eventually drive them mad if they’re exposed long enough. I thought Threwd could act as a bonus to Desperation and if it took you to seven you’d slap on some kind of madness trait. But yeah, I agree that changing nature seems difficult - but I don’t want all the characters to continually be Running, Boasting, Demanding y’know?

I think it would be easier to do this through another system. Fate comes to mind, particularly. Or maybe even Apoc World with moves hacked/renamed to reflect the book series. Torchbearer is really about dungeon crawling, resource management, and the like.

Gah! Everywhere I go people tell me to try different systems. I agree that a Apocalypse-powered game would work quite smoothly, the only issue I had with it was the particular way it managed resources, as well as the pulpy feel of it. Luke Crane suggested that I try Torchbearer or Basic D&D, so I think I’m gonna give it a go first, since Luke is pretty knowledgeable on these things and has read MBT.

I think torchbearer would work fine for what you want to do.

I agree that alchemy/healer basically already have the effects you want. No it’s not too overpowered considering inventory limitations and that it costs a check. If you really want to have them roll on use you could make it like a scroll where you roll to scribe the thing and then make a separate roll when you activate it, though if both rolls are Alchemy that might be too many Alchemy tests. Having the check give you the potive for free and then you roll when you use it would work, but it would feel a little weird.

I would totally do different natures by culture. I think that makes perfect sense. One of the nature descriptors could even be Desperation, though that’s not a verb… Acting in Desperation?

Spoiler: None of the human peoples of the Middarmark have Boasting, Demanding and Running as their descriptors. Some of the tribes have one or two of those. Some of them have none.

Awesome! I’m really looking forward to Middarmark coming out. And actually, I think I was overreacting when I said the Nature descriptions couldn’t fit - they’re really not that far off. The series looks at intolerance and ignorance a lot, so Boasting and Demanding work quite well.

Also, spoiler for Lamplighter, one of the characters could definitely have different nature descriptors that come in use when they don’t have the right skill…

In terms of Skolding, I figure no Skold is incompetent enough to not be able to make something that looks about right, but it has the capacity to go horribly wrong…