New lifepaths - sex, babies, and forbidden science

EDIT: The stats in this thread are working drafts. Please see the final versions on the Burning Empires Wiki.

I think these should be self-explanatory…

Setting: Stewardship & Court
Time: 4 yrs
Resources: 1
Circles: 1
Stat Bonus: +1 M
Skills: 5 pts: Seduction (Wil), Conspicious (Wil), Inconspicous (Wil), Soothing Platitudes (Wil), Vanity & hypocrisy-wise (Per)
Traits: 2 pts: Charming, Privileged Position, Showboat, Lavish Taste, Social Climber, Garbo, Almost Like Family
Requirements: Companion, Bastard, or Matador; or Housemaid plus the “Ruined” Trait; or Prostitute plus Bondsman (Bondswoman)

Setting: Serfdom & Servitude
Time: 4 yrs
Resources: 0
Circles: 2
Stat Bonus: +1 P
Skills: 5 pts: Child-wise (Per), Child Rearing (Wil), Inconspicuous (Wil), Pregnancy-wise (Per), Noble family-wise (Per)
Traits: 2 pts: Surrogate Mother, Breeder, Loyal, Innocent, Hurt, Almost Like Family
Requirements: The character must be 15 or older and female to start this lifepath.

Setting: Outcast & Criminal
Time: 6 yrs
Resources: 2
Circles: 0
Stat Bonus: +1 M
Skills: 6 pts: Human Eugenics (Per), Human Biology (Per), Cryonics (Per), Genetic lineage-wise (Per), Lost Secrets-wise (Per), Inquisition-wise (Per)
Traits: 2 pts: Practitioner of Forbidden Arts, Blacklisted, Outlaw, Idealist, Clever Bastard
Requirements: any Student-type lifepath

Courtesan plus Social Climber trait allows Lady.
Anvil Wife plus Social Climber allows Lady
Eugenicist allows Filthy Worm Lover and Rebel Priest

New traits:

Social Climber (Dt) 5 pts
This character has risen above his or her station in life, and everybody knows it.
This trait grants a 1D infamous reputation with all characters Born to Rule. It also grants +1 success in any Duels of Wits where the hypocrisy of the noble class is relevant.

Almost Like Family (Dt) 9 pts
The character has been in service to some powerful household so long that they treat him or her like one of the family… except when they don’t.
This trait grants a 1D affiliation with the family, as long as the player names it, specifies its source of prominence (noble title, military service, wealth, etc.), and locates its primary residence. It also grants a free complicated relationship with any one family member. Finally, the character may ignore +1 Ob of higher/lower status penalties for Circles tests involving family members and servants in the primary residence.
Further, the character gains a persona point for getting drawn into a conflict between two family members so blatantly that the rest of the family think it’s none of his business.

Surrogate Mother (Dt)
Bearing and raising children is hardly compatible with positions of power, even in a high-tech society: There is no such thing as maternity Iron. In the great days of the Federated Empire, artificial wombs were widely available to allow women to carry their children to term outside the body, but even on High Index worlds such technology is now rare, unreliable, and illegal. In Mundus-influenced space, most worlds have simply fallen back on the ancient custom of patriarchy, excluding women from any position deemed too dangerous or demanding.
Among the elite of the Casiguran Matriarchy, however, as well some secretive families elsewhere, the alternative is surrogate mothers. The fertilized egg of the noble patroness is implanted in a carefully selected bondswoman, who carries the child to term and usually breast-feeds it. Some families allow their surrogates to continue throughout the child’s life as a governess, but most ruthlessly isolate the child from the surrogate as soon as it is weaned to ensure the young heir does not grow up with divided loyalties. One irony is that among the Casigurans, a society that glorifies matriarchy, much of the elite grows up effectively motherless and with a painful, but politically useful, longing for a strong mother-figure.
A surrogate mother has a 2D infamous reputation as an abomination against nature among followers of the Burning Wheel (Mundus Humanitas, Cyrean, and Urfan alike), and a 1D infamous reputation among Casigurans as an embarassing necessity best ignored.

Practitioner of Forbidden Arts (Dt)
While Psychologists are generally distrusted, they have their uneasy place in the society of the Iron Empires. Other arts of the old Federation, are outlawed altogether: damned by the Mundus Humanitas as sorcery and heresy, deeply distrusted even by other heretics and would-be rationalists. The Practitioner of Forbidden Arts trait is required to know the Human Eugenics skill and other such underground technologies.
This trait grants the character a 2D infamous reputation with the Mundus Humanitas – including splinter groups like the Cyreans and Urfans – and makes killing him a virtuous act rather than a sin for any believer, as with the Heretic trait. It also grants a 1D infamous reputation with any human from any of the Iron Empires; whether such a reputation applies in a particular Void World should be determined by the group. On the upside, it grants a 1D affilitation with other Practioners of Forbidden Arts, if you can find them, and a 1D reputation among Vaylen as remarkably enlightened, for a human.
Note that “Outlaw” remains a separate trait indicating active persecution by the local government. A Practitioner who lacks the “Outlaw” trait has managed to keep his or her activities quiet enough, or make them useful enough to certain people in power, to avoid being declared a dead man walking.
Restrictions: Must have the Human Eugenics skill (or any other skill the group decides is banned on their world)

New skill and tech:

Human Eugenics (Per)
While Vaylen Eugenics is a flourishing technology for mass-producing monsters and specialized castes as needed, Human Eugenics is a nearly lost art for improving the species as a whole over the course of generations.
Now banned by the Church and universally distrusted, eugenicists were once a respected profession in human space. Century after century, they weeded the harmful mutations borne of space travel out of the human genome while weaving in everything from the Bright Mark to immunity against the innumerable plagues plaguing colonists and traders on new worlds. Some legends even say eugenicists invented psychological talents and the mutant traits commonly attributed to interbreeding with the alien Fuur. At the height of human civilization, eugenicists aggressively offered the Federation’s middle classes genetic screening of potential mates and the use of external wombs to conceive embryos and carry them to term, liberating women from the dangers and discomforts of pregnancy while giving eugenicists easy access to the developing child’s DNA.
But as civilization, technology, and the eugenicists’ own skills all declined, these once-commonplace conveniences increasingly began to miscarry – often literally – at a terrible cost in public trust. Yet all too many eugenicists, especially those associated with the state-sponsored Church of the Divine Machine, responded to the decline not by limiting their ambitions but with ever more desperate efforts to “improve” the human race, especially among the ruling elite. The resulting backlash contributed to the rise of mystics like the Mundus Humanitas and of noble rebels like the Hanrilkes.
Today, a handful of eugenicists still practice underground. Within the scale of the game, the primary use of Human Eugenics is to ensure healthy, normal births for desperate and wealthy would-be parents – and to reverse-engineer what the Vaylen eugenicists are up to. The problem is presenting the evidence to anyone in authority without being executed for the techniques used to gather it.
To test a person for psychological talent, Ob 2. To determine whether a life form is natural or a creation of Vaylen Eugenics by testing a DNA sample, Ob 2; to determine the specific Alien Life Form traits by testing a DNA sample, Ob 3. To help a previously infertile couple achieve a healthy pregnancy, Ob 2; to test a developing fetus for congenital defects, Ob 2; to cure a fetus of genetic illness, Ob 3; to cure an adult of a genetic illness through retroviral therapy, Ob 4; to use an external womb to fertilize an egg and bring the fetus to term, Ob 2.
Practice Cycle: 1 yr. Hrs/day: 6r/8d/16c
Technology: Yes, a laboratory.

External Womb
Resources Obstacle: 8
High Index only
The external womb is a kind of cyborg birth tank, blending mechanical and organic components, capable of bringing sperm and egg together and carrying the result fetus to term under constant watch for potential health problems. This is not a “fast growth” tank: The pregnancy takes the normal nine months. However, any Human Eugenics rolls made on the embyro inside gain a +2D bonus. The device requires a continuous and stable external power supply to operate.
Mere possession of this device immediately grants the owner the Outlaw trait if he or she does not have it already.
Technological Traits: Enhancement (8 pts), 3D Skill Advantage (7 pts), Categorical Limitation (only affects one fetus, -1 pt), Trait Limitations x2 (requires or imposes Outlaw, requires external power, -6 pts)
Availability in character burning: Any character with the Human Eugenics skill and the Outlaw trait may buy an External Womb in character burning for 1 rp.

Sydney, while I appreciate the enthusiasm and the ardor and the creativity and the time and energy, I’m begging you, please, play the game.

You’re making me feel inadequate or lacking.

Huh? You design and publish two award-winning games (three, if you count BW Classic and Revised separately) with more sales than arguably anyone else in the “indie” world, whatever that is, and I whip up some lifepaths – which is such a fun & easy format I’m considering using it for my own non-game worldbuilding projects – and which one of us is supposed to feel inadequate, again? (I kind of like “neither,” myself). You realize this doesn’t take that much time, right? Some people watch TV; I get bored fast with non-participatory entertainment nowadays, so I write lifepaths.

Anyway, my group is reconvening next week after the holidays and I know that among the other three regular players I have at least one “definite” and two “interested” votes for at least one Phase of Burning Empires, so I’m on track there. Actually these lifepaths would be a big hook for one of the players, who’s very big into doomed romance and struggles against restrictive gender roles.

Well, I agree. LPs really aren’t hard to cook up. Neither are traits. But they are also slightly more tricky than you think. I would absolutely no way let noobs use custom LPs on their first time out. You’ll have to trust me that the book is going to provide a focused and enjoyable play experience if you follow the guidelines in the World Burner and Character Burner. All of the setting, and doomed romance, you’ll need is contained within the book.


Shhh, Luke. Don’t ruin it. Daddy’s taking notes.




Okay, any substantive comments on the LPs themselves? I’m particularly interested in Luke’s take on anything that, lacking actual play experience, I might have put in that could be problematic; and in Chris’s canonicity musings.

My suggestions (salt available at your local retailer):

For the Courtesan LP: Make Soothing Platitudes the required skill, Lavish Taste the required trait, and reduce the trait points to 1.

For the Surrogate: Reduce the circles points by 1, add a bonus mental point.

For Social Climber: Ditch the +1s thing. Possibly rename this Slept to the top or similar.

For Almost Like Family: Again, ditch the last bit of this trait, or make it into a new one altogether. Change it to be an affiliation with the household, not just the family.

For Surrogate Mother: 1D infamous with all those groups is enough.

For Practitioner of Forbidden Arts: Again, 1D is enough here.

Great suggestions, thanks.

Why Mental, exactly? If it’s to give her the Will to endure repeated pregnancies, maybe that’s better done with a trait.

For Social Climber: Ditch the +1s thing. Possibly rename this Slept to the top or similar.

Aw, I liked the +1s…

For Almost Like Family: Again, ditch the last bit of this trait, or make it into a new one altogether. Change it to be an affiliation with the household, not just the family.

I.e. the persona point opportunity? Yeah, that’s probably too much. And shifting the affiliation is very nicely done. That might actually make the “ignore +1 Ob of higher/lower social status” penalty redundant, too.

It’s more to reflect that it would take a strong willed person to survive in that job.

It’s almost a freebie +1s for any DoW - I mean, much of the game is hung on the hypocrisy of the nobility! But it would be ok as another trait, just not slapped on the end of that one.

I’d leave that in - it’s a bit of double-dipping, but not that egregious.

I see what you mean; I was originally thinking of making Conspicuous the required skill, myself.

The thing is, I’d like this lifepath to leave room for different kinds of courtesans. A geisha-type wouldn’t necessarily be Conspicuous or have Lavish Tastes. Inara from Firefly would definitely be all about the Soothing Platitudes (with everyone but Mal, that is), but a classic '40s wise dame, or say a Marlene Dietrich type, would be all about the zingers.

The constants I can come up with is that all these types play with sexual tension and attraction, constantly, just by being around, making Seduction the logical required skill; and all of them get away with it because they’re so darned Charming.

But I will drop the trait points down to 1, anyway. These ladies already get access to some really useful traits (and skills) and don’t need any more favors.

I’d recommend you look into the Monster Burner, if you don’t already have one at hand. It’s for BW, but it should be pretty applicable to LP design for BE, too. You can get a sneak peak by looking at the errata/update PDF (now included in the second printing) that contains the completely revised section on lifepath traits and the philosophy behind them. Here’s a few snippets:

Most lifepaths come with a few trait points and a group of traits. When building a path, first ask yourself the following questions to determine if it should have lifepath traits at all: Does this lifepath irrevocably alter the character in some way? So much so that years later he will still be twitching from it, even though he is technically past it all? Does this lifepath teach nothing but a hard life lesson? If so this path should include lifepath traits.

The first lifepath trait listed is the required trait on this path. Don’t put the really meaty traits up front. Always lead with a nice character trait, and put the heavier die traits as secondary options, not requirements.

Placing the juicy traits second forces the player to spend at least two trait points on that path. This builds investment in the character and helps focus concepts to what is really important.

Actually, I’d turn that argument around - it is Conspicuous that defines the “courtesan” and not Seduction OR Soothing Platitudes. Conspicuous is just about being noticed - not HOW you get noticed. The basic common thread that unites any and all types of “courtesan” (geisha, concubine, whore, dancing girl, stripper, that chick you keep on a leash at the foot of your throne 'cause you’re Jabba the Hutt, whatever), is that they are all differentiated from mere servants by being furniture. The entire goal of having courtesans is for them to be noticed. The prostiture makes her living from sex, the geisha from entertaining (the whole “art-person” thing) - and yet both strive to attract and hold your attention. Furniture*. While the servants are there for utility, and should be seen as little as possible.

*or “furnishings” if you prefer.

You’ve convinced me on Conspicuous. Thanks.

And I am too liberal with the die traits when I build LPs; I’ve slowly learned the trick about putting the meatiest traits (and skills, for that matter) in the second and later positions, but I still have to restrain myself from using all those beautiful traits in the book.

Here’s my thought for the revised Courtesan:

Setting: Stewardship & Court
Time: 4 yrs
Resources: 1
Circles: 1
Stat Bonus: +1 M
Skills: 4 pts: Conspicious (Wil), Seduction (Wil), Soothing Platitudes (Wil), Vanity & hypocrisy-wise (Per)
Traits: 2 pts: Clothes to die for, Lavish Taste, Charming, Social Climber, Privileged Position, Garbo, Almost Like Family
Requirements: Companion, Bastard, Court Coeptir, or Matador; or Housemaid plus the “Ruined” Trait; or Prostitute plus Bondsman (Bondswoman); or any Psychologist-type lifepath

Stormsweeper, thanks tremendously. Can I have your real name to put in the credits line on the wiki entry?

And uh… what’s this Matador lifepath?

Why, I’m glad you asked. Now as for Luke, well, I can hear him screaming all the way across the Atlantic, but I’m glad.

Oh, and to incorporate folks’ suggestions, my revisions to the traits:

Almost Like Family
This trait grants a 1D affiliation with the family’s household – from the head of family to the youngest heir, from the chief of security to the lowest handmaiden – as long as the player names the family, specifies the location of their home estate/palace/fortress on the planet, and buys a relationship with at least one family member.
The trait also grants a 1D reputation of the player’s choice within the household. If this trait is ever voted off or otherwise lost, this reputation immediately becomes an infamous one.
The GM should consider granting a persona point if the character provokes a Duel of Wits with a member of the family who then resorts to saying that the character does not really belong and should know his or her place.

Social Climber (maybe rename to “Upstart”?)
This trait grants a 1D infamous reputation with any character who has the Mark of Privilege trait and with any character who resents the nobility. It grants a 1D affiliation with other characters with the “Social Climber” trait.
The GM should consider granting a persona point if the character provokes a Duel of Wits with a member of the nobility who then resorts to saying that the character does not really belong and should know his or her place.

Also, I think Courtesan’s trait list needs the “Favored Slave” trait I proposed over in this thread.

I just had a pleasantly scary realization:

Born to Rule, Novitiate, Circle of 10000, Courtesan: four lifepaths and you’re the Burning Empires equivalent of the Bene Gesserit.