Friday, 19 November 2021

Attacks for the system behind the character sheet

(This is a rather long post. Somewhat bitter realization, considering what it meant to resolve. Sorry for typos) 

Never a credit to a weapon, but to the hand that guides it

Wrecking is a measure of doing physical harm to others, be it beings or objects. Its waveform is a repeating spike like a heartbeat, – for prolonged, sustained harm, both physical, mental and social see Cruelty skill, for a single sharp thorn see Exploit Weakness skill.

Only those who never had witness a combat up close don't have points in Wrecking; once a character closely observes (less alone participates) in their first fight they automatically acquire a dot. People who don't have a dot are usually those who observe without understanding (such as small children and some of the other beings) or rare few who live from birth in violence-free monastery-ghettos.

What amount of harm Wrecking actually does is defined by the attitude the character has about it.

This attitude for a new character always starts at Resisting, but can be shifted to Reluctant or Rejoiced at any moment, even immediately at character creation. It cannot be shifted back to the left. Resigned option is not a part of initial generation and can be unlocked later.

Resisting is starting position. It is always an active choice. The world views Wrecking as a very practical, often easy, often lucrative solution to many problems, thus Resisting has to be laboriously maintained as a worldview, a method, a way. In this world one cannot simply flow with everybody else – they have to actively oppose the practicality, and ease, and thrill of Wrecking, knowing that even their best effort might be simply not enough. There are no special benefits to this position, except maybe a reputation as peacemaker, and even this sometimes makes you just an easier prey to others.

Resisting character has to always push for peaceful solutions, for empathy, for diplomatic means, for anything but resolving things with violence or cruelty, or the threads of such; they have to abstain from combat as much as they can, and to prevent others to combat as much as they can. No, your party members cannot fight on your behalf while they ask you character to politely sit it out and don't look/don't know.

Resisting is difficult, and it often comes with a personal cost to such characters, and it is boring for many to observe, for sure, with all the talking and long-term compromises that don't bring immediate merit, and it is dangerously bitter to die simply for ideals that so few share.

• Resisting characters, if they don't flee, use the most rudimentary combat rules, most often a single skill check to see how well or badly they did in the combat. Time doesn't flow in combat rounds for them but they can be killed like anybody else.

• Weapons don't respond to them, and, neither them not other objects do any extra harm in their hands: Resisting character never does any more damage than Wrecking table allows them.

• Resisting characters always go last in any combat-like situations where they have any choice. 
They do always go first in any non-combat-like situations where they have any choice. 

• Pain Saints won't come for Resisting characters earlier than in a decade after, even if at all, but their exhaltations seem to be very rudimentary if they do.

Not many people actively resist.

Reluctant is a tenuous state of stasis. One neither actively resist Wrecking, not actively welcomes it. It is – and Resigned, in lesser degree – are defaults for the world, because, while Rejoiced societies leave a bright splash on annals of history, they don't usually last too long as societies, and by sheer shaky attrition Reluctant societies outlive them, in general, to impose their norms on others, for a time being.

Reluctant characters do engage with combat and may even be good at it, but are yet hesitant to completely see it as a solution to everything. Most, at least halfheartedly and often by a route, will propose some non-violent solutions at first – out of obligation, or desire for personal equilibrium, or due to some not-yet discarded Resisting ideals, or due to the pressure of society which often in a similar state of shaky equilibrium.

Reluctant character might even uphold almost the same behaviour as Resisting, but if things won't go their way, and they decide not to leg it, the combat is always next best choice.

• Reluctant characters always have an average initiative and use simplified rules of combat. They have perception of rounds, but many intricacies and details of a combat don't apply to them and cannot be applied to them. For example, in Pathfinder 1st it would be most of modifiers and Attacks of Opportunity; in OSR such combat it would be simplistic theatre of mind.

• Purposely-made weapons respond to them, but items not made specifically as weapons (such as regular hammers, sickles, picks, bottles, rocks or branches) are likewise reluctant to do harm in their hands, thus only doing a minimal damage.

• Even Reluctant characters get some benefits of Wrecking as they immerse themselves more into it.
Sight: they can approximate, with some degree of error and in general terms, how beaten other combatants are, if it doesn't show as actual wounds. It takes a moment of concentration but usually not to detriment to the fighting.
Sound: in combat, they are resistant – if they wish to – to any outside influence that inclines them to stop fighting. This has to be decided at the beginning of a combat but can be changed from one combat to another.
Smell: they now roll for Initiative, potentially getting better than average but also embracing the chaos of potentially getting worse result as well.
Touch: they can see the potential in regular tools and items now; these are now regarded as weapons and do Wrecking damage instead of minimal one.
Taste: they get one extra ordinary life worth of Hit Points.

• Pain Saints come quicker yet still with some delay for Reluctant characters, months and years after; decades may pass by for somebody especially unlucky.

Rejoiced is a crux of it, the beauty, the divinity, the dirt, the dance, the gore, the chaos, the clockwork, the joy. Combat is everything and everything is combat.

Rejoiced character fully embrace Wrecking, and as a result becomes stronger, better, faster, harder to kill, more masterful, more unstoppable; they want to have as much of it as possible, after all, and the best possible combats too. They weave the tide of battles to their benefit, they uncover the true potential of each second and harm hidden in every object. In the combat they enjoy the clarity, the choices, the fullness of perception, and thrills other cannot imagine or access. Where the mundane life ticks down days, and weeks, and months in a single line of diary, for Rejoiced it can suddenly explode in complexity and meaning of every tiny moment of every second while in a fight. 

This is what to live for.

The world becomes the most real when it is weighted at the edge of the blade, in a flight of a bullet. 

They always have a choice not to combat, but why wouldn't they?

They get the most collateral benefits as well, which they share generously with others, more reluctant participants: the acquisition of wealth from the slain, the power over those they spared, the status of their victories, and the quick and easy solution for so many of difficult problems, which otherwise would require talking, and understanding, and compromise, and giving up nice things that are best to keep for themselves.

• Rejoiced characters use the most complex and detailed combat rules in the system used for playing Gheste. All options are available for them and apply to them. If more detailed rules for any given system can be implemented, they must be implemented for Rejoiced.

• Negotiations that involve non-combat means or have no threats of combat bore them. This has no major mechanical effect, except they have disadvantage when they try to personally conduct such negotiations as a spokesperson, and lose a point of Initiative for every fifteen minutes observing any such negotiations. Life lived without fighting passes through them by without leaving much, if any, significant memories. 

• On contrary, they can recall any fight they were in, and remember (often in with vivid and precise details) all who participated and how it unfolded. If they tell the stories of their fights, it captures the attention of the audience in one of the three ways: 1) giving Rejoiced side an small advantage to strike first 2) some social pull for later threats and 'negotiations', adding to intimidating effect; 3) everybody who is not actively Resisting, can raise their Wrecking score by 1 for a next fight, capped at Rejoiced own's Maximum Attained Wrecking (MAW) score; Rejoiced with same or higher MAW don't benefit or disadvantage mechanically, but enjoy the tales nevertheless.

• Anything in their hands always has its best potential for combat. Regardless if Rejoiced use purposely-built weapons or random objects, they always do full Wrecking damage as per table.

• Pain Saints come quickly to them, often in a matter of days, and their exhaltations are the most welcoming and drastic.

In addition to all of that, Rejoiced achieve full potential with Wrecking and have a number of other benefits:

Implements: Rejoiced's fetishes, their cups of sacrament, their syringes, their most reliable tools. When Rejoiced gets an new item for combat, for each point of MAW they can discover the better combat potential for this item. Once choices are made for this particular item  and one combat is done with them they stuck (so another Rejoiced or Resigned who uses this particular item will have to use assigned tags as they are), but for every new item, even of the same kind, such choices can be made anew. Reluctant and Resisting characters get no benefits from Implements.

Mechanically speaking, in Gheste there are no lists of weapons or battle spells; damage done is determined by Wrecking and the attitude of the character, and To-Hit bonus is Wrecking skill itself.

For Implements there should be a Lego of tags/mods. Each point in MAW allows Rejoiced to select one tag/mod to customize and combat-personalize every item they get, to do such things as add bonus to damage; add better accuracy to attack; add area of effect, add bleeding, add difficulty to avoid the damage, add Defence value without surrendering senses, add special ability and so on. I think I saw some very good such lists in blogs already, and any such list can be adapted depending on the system.

Essentially Rejoiced 'builds' every item as a weapon they fight with, although they don't really need to spend any in-game time crafting; in-world they simply see the full combat potential in any item they use once they get it. Implements mods are 'baked in' after Rejoiced does one combat with this weapon.

– Tolerance: Rejoiced gets extra average life worth of Hit Points for each dot of MAW. 

– Tide: Understanding the flow of combat well, for each point of MAW Rejoiced can add to the attack or protection of any other combatant (who is not actively Resisting) within close observable distance. If attack total Wrecking + Tide for a combatant exceeds 7, the leftover MAW can go to another person; each point of protection so given halves damage from one attack.

Surge: It cannot stop here, it must continue. Even if Hit Points are fully depleted, Rejoiced can fight until they land another blow. While in Surge, Rejoiced keep on taking damage as usual but don't die. If by the time of the landed blow the damage dealt by this blow is equal or more than Hit Point deficit of Rejoiced, they can continue fighting until the next successful blow, after which the situation repeats. If not, they die and they die immediately after combat ends. 

– Saint's Blessing: for the being so immersed in Wrecking, any violent exhaltation they bear can be used as of maximum of its potency. Dying Rejoiced can choose to call for Pain Saint with their dying breath, so it will come in a matter of hours, but this would mean the Saint's touch will be the most drastic.

– The Moment: Chances to get the Moment are calculated as such: 

1 out of 100 chance in every fight with opponent(s) of equal or better danger.
+ 1 for each 1/10 of an average lifespan spent uninterrupted as Rejoiced
+ 1 for each drastic exhaltation
Rejoiced doesn't have to roll if they don't wish to. Once The Moment is obtained, it can never be obtained again.

The Moment is very intimate, very personal understanding of the whole universe as nothing but the violence. It is an elated revelation, the moment of most intense, most holistic bliss, the utmost clarity, the most fulfilling moment of their life Rejoiced (or anybody else, really) can ever achieve. 

It usually goes three ways:

1) Rejoiced embraces this moment entirely and makes no judgement. They (currently in a middle of difficult combat) usually die because everybody keeps on killing them while they don't do anything but blissfully stare, but they die with utmost fulfillment.
As they do die, somewhere in Gheste new Pain Saint comes into being; player of Rejoiced should have some fun designing its appearance, inclinations and attributes.

 2) Rejoiced embraces this moment entirely, and they find it good, thrills-in-fingers good. The moment passes, but they keep carrying the echo of this bliss with them and trying to get it again, seeking more and better fights, new highs to their mastery. Such Rejoiced become red devils, the blood knights, the beings who exist only to fight more and more difficult opponents. Attributed red colour is symbolic, but their capabilities aren't: red devils can keep on raising their Wrecking as high as they want and can now apply their full MAW to themselves in Tide; their Surge allows for twice as much deficit. They don't get to be reborn anymore (Pain Saints don't see them because even pain is a bliss now) but this is a life worth living. Red devil character regards combat as the absolutely best thing in the universe, and themselves as conduits of this benediction; many turn somewhat religious (if not already) and House of Violence is usually started by their hand somewhere, sooner or later. They cannot be Resigned, and while they can stop fighting if they wish to, and show mercy (so the opponents can live to become a better fighter later) they cannot be affected by any external means, words or spells to cease the violence if they don't want to. And, really, why would they want to?

Red devil can continue to adventure with their companions, but they probably will get really bored really soon with people of lesser skill and/or ambition, and usually either kill or leave them to wander off on their own. 

3) Rejoiced embraces this moment entirely, and something that is still marginally human in them sees  the root of it, and its complexity, and inescapable permeation of it in all the universe, and they understand it entirely, with a suddenly sobering clarity that will always stays with them now, and Wrecking that imbues them turns onto Rejoiced for that shift in perception.

Such Rejoiced can save anything, once. Their understanding of violence is so precise it is practically omniscient, and regardless if it is a kingdom, a planet, a person, a soul, an idea, regardless of how many beings, or things, or gods, or red devils, or tides of fate stands on their way, they can do it. However weak it is that they are saving, it will survive by their mercy. There will be a decisive battle in which Rejoiced will defeat all of enemies of what they are saving, once and for all, and there will be peace in universe, at least for some noticeable time.

Rejoiced dies at the end of this battle, of course, but before that moment they won't. Regardless of how many deaths they suffer while trying to save this something, Pain Saint will come to them quickly and beyond any limit usually allotted for the living. While such Rejoiced don't usually feel any joy of combat (not really, not anymore) and get all Outs of Resigned, they don't suffer in battle potency, and can keep on raising Wrecking if they wish so and have time so. What is worth saving has to be decided quickly, though, as such clarity without any benefits joy erodes the very being of the person. Resigned has a year per each point of MAW; if they don't find anything worth dying for in this span, they dissolve into nothing completely in vain. 

Red as an actual colour is optional

Resigned is a rightmost category of Wrecking, and it is only possible to achieve if, after some time as Rejoiced, a player of the character says something like 'Oh no, not another combat...' If Rejoiced listens quietly without interrupting to the attempts at peace, or tries to find some meaning in mundane life, or considers something worth doing that is not combat, they can shift to Resigned.

Resigned are well-immersed into Wrecking and are still pretty good at it (they were the best possible, once) but overall they are tired of it, and see complexity of combat as an obligation, not as a joy.

As with anything, once character becomes Resigned they cannot shift back to Rejoiced, with an exception of fighting a red devil (or seeing them fight) and suddenly getting a desire to be like them. 

• Resigned still uses the most complex combat rules in the system, but they can 'peel off', if they so wish, one complexity per point of Wrecking, so it no longer applies. I.e. battle grid can be replaced with mind positioning, AoO can be mostly abandoned, modifiers simplified or discarded, and so on. These options can be done after each fight and cannot be changed later.

• While they cannot do Implements themselves anymore, they still use any object, be it a purposely-built weapon or regular item to its full Wrecking damage potential. If they get already Implemented weapon, they can use it with mods/tags imprinted into it, as echoes speak clearly to them still.

• They retain some of the tolerance they have, but their MAW is considered a half of what it was; same goes for the Tide and Surge (if Resigned had them), and Resigned don't have Saint's blessing and neither they can catch The Moment in this state. 

• They can resolve to die in combat without further struggle, if they wish to. Pain Saints won't come for them if so; otherwise treat as Reluctant.

In addition, Resigned, who fully proficient in combat but unable to extract any joy from it, gets a number of Outs*

– Washout: what it is to failure? seen it enough. Resigned gets resistance against (social) humiliation; The numbness comes not only to the body.
– Burnout: what is it to pain? tasted it enough. Resigned gets resistance against anything that specifically inflicts pain (in game-terms, Cruelty and Exploit Weakness skills are half-efficient). The distance comes not only to mind.
– Woundup: what is it to fear? smelled it enough. Resigned gets advantage against external or induced causes of fear. Everything hardens before it breaks.
– Grindown: what it is to sanity? it was lost at least once already. Touched and saw it, it isn't that bad. Any externally induced cause of confusion, compulsion or madness is at disadvantage against Resigned. Maybe there is still something beyond chaos of the battle.

(*) elementally styled for my amusement 

If character shifts back to Rejoiced, they lose all Outs but get back their Rejoiced benefits in full.

Now, the lore dump: what is Divine Addiction.

The legend had it that the first person who reached the box in the times there Gheste was small, simple and half-transparent, was an artist or a philosopher, and, enchanted by the strange beauty of the place they simply wished for more of it. Which is the reason, the legend explains as the legends do, as of why Gheste is growing still, in calm, and contemplative, and unstoppable pace. 

The legend has it that the second person who reached the box wished for something else entirely.

Was it a meaning of life? The higher ideal to serve? The never-before-so-acute perception of the world? The plain and simple power, health, plenty? A quick and easy solution for so many difficult problems? A victory over despair?

Whatever it was, they got it all in Divine Addiction. With them as bearer, the Divine Addiction permeated Gheste and eventually got out, although it yet to affect the totality of the world.

Just like a regular drug addiction (or no less regular death) it will eventually gets one killed, but the divinity of it makes sure that this isn't permanent – at least not in Gheste where dying breath attracts Pain Saints as assuredly as a stench of a carcass attracts flies.

Eventually most of the world got onto it. There are rewards for violence, good rewards that shortcut much more cumbersome peaceful ways. Aside of personal power over others that Rejoiced get, even people reluctantly or resignedly partaking can literally wipe their problems away. Wealth can be taken from slain. Power can be extended over defeated. And it is such a fulfilling, interesting thing to actually do if one is into it, so no wonder that this memo-viral-drug is now in most of the heads.

Wrecking is mechanical term that defines the depth and flow of the Divine Addiction.


This post has roots in two personal observations:

1) The section on combat is most present part in RPG manuals I've read, even in those which seemingly have little to do with combat, such as 'good-feel' games or dedicated to the investigation of paranormal. Only some games (mostly of 'lyric' variety), which purposely don't seek to a give typical gaming experience don't have combat resolution section. As well as being the most often present section, combat section is often the largest. If we count combat section directly it is not uncommon for it to be about 1/4 of the book, and if we count all that is tied to combat indirectly (battle spells, healing rules (especially quick healing), magic item creation rules, time counted in rounds, statblocks, weapons and armour lists, etc) it might be up to 2/3 of the book.

1.25) Thanks to the above the combat is often presented as the most detailed part of the book, with biggest complexity of rules comparatively to exploration, relations, discoveries and pretty much everything else; magical items and alchemy could be complex but they are also tied to how well the end result participates in combat. In some systems (such as Pathfinder 1st edition I am rather familiar with) a lot of character generation options are in one way or another made for combat participation, and, unless DM runs intentionally soft game, the character has to be made combat-viable or rely on combat-viable teammates.

1.5) The idea of the damage progression where damage dealt and the level of combat rules involved are tied to the character and their desired modus operandi instead of a gear, allows me not to write dreadful item lists, samey attacking spells and only to use combat rules that party wishes to use.

2) In-world the combat often finishes in a matter of minutes, but at table it isn't rare, especially in complex systems, for it to take hours of real time, while downtime – the period where characters most often develop something lasting, learn something new, establish connections or heal – takes weeks or months of in-world time but passes as minutes at the table. 

This makes a certain perceptual shift, where every second of combat is an intricate clockwork on an edge of life and death, sharp, detailed, with many choices of what to do, with greater risk and sense of importance, while the downtime passes like a grey cloud on horizon, barely as a list of things to do and a few rolls and small conversations to do it, and where few things seem to have the same level of impact as decisions in combat.

The post takes this discrepancy and simply makes it a truth in-Gheste-universe. The resulting distortion between minutes that pass with clarity, vibrancy and sense of importance only to then dissolve into barely detailed weeks and months (of downtime) is not too much dissimilar to a drug high as it is often portrayed in media, hence the in-world name.

2.5) About twice in my gaming experience in the middle of some negotiation an impatient player decided that talking with NPCs is too boring, or the other side asks too much/takes too long/isn't reverent enough to lick books of adventurers and simply killed such NPC in the middle of negotiation, because their character had good fighting abilities and they could; the resulting combat was much more interesting to them than talking anyway, even if at the end, in one case, it got them killed. This is where Rejoiced idea comes from. It is reinforced ny how completely new players first play DnD/similar games, and how they try to involve themselves with people, and talk to everybody, and do generally good things – and after they discover combat, all this involvement will be often or mostly gone. Reluctant idea mostly comes from observed at table observations when one of the players says 'lets just kill them' as a quick solution but then the group still tries to negotiate first, often half-hardheartedly and just so they tried.

2.75) Hence Resisting character is a hardmode because such characters cannot even rely on teammates doing combat for them. In RPGs which have combat section in book, they are often a pain in everybody's behinds, because combat is usually more fulfilling as moment-per-moment activity at table, and Resisting character actively pushing it away. Especially this would be true as hardmode in the games with no 'diplomacy roll' to solve problems, and mind-affecting spells are considered to be at least on a level of Reluctant, if not Rejoiced violation of mind. I don't ever expect people to use this part of the rules, if to be honest.

3.0) Dan from "Throne of Salt" blog and his review of SCP RPG is to thank for perception of weapons as of actual fetishes, and the whole idea of memo-virus-addition to be divine in origin, and to have much less of mechanical drawbacks and moralizing than it initially had.


  1. I think I'd have to play it out or read some play examples or in some other way delve deeper into the mechanics to fully appreciate them, but I really like the concepts in the setting, and your explanation of how the mechanics tie into the lore and what they're collectively meant to represent. I've talked with actually several people lately about how I'm increasingly uninterested in mechanical developments for the sake of mechanical developments, but these seem really intentional in a way that I find interesting.

    I've had similar thoughts about combat rules and their implications; in my case, I've mainly decided to just dissociate violence and conflict mechanics such that Saves (or other non-combat resolution mechanics) vs. Conflict are just different mechanical approaches with practical implications that can be applied equally to various forms of violent or non-violent situations, but this is also an interesting way to reconceptualize it.

    Have you been playing this or intend to play this? If so, has it played out the ways you've expected?

    1. Thank you, I am glad if you found it useful.

      I both dislike the idea of stretching combat mechanics onto everything else (i.e. making conflict mechanics ubiquitous enough that everything is resolved sort of like a combat), and cannot deny that combat can be, indeed, very enjoyable part of the game.

      With Wrecking I just really, really didn't want to write weapons lists and samey attacking spells, and tie body injuries / HPs inflexibly to what we accept a survivable battle situation; hence everything is offloaded onto a skill which is then left to player to decide how much of it to have and what to do with it. Players who revel in combat just set their column accordingly.

      Setting is happen to tie in well because Gheste is just this kind of place where it could. "There is a box, it has no lock, it is in the cage that has no door" and so on.

      I haven't played Gheste yet. Given the slow rate with which I am able to even write about Gheste chances for it are rather slim.

  2. This is AMAZING, it ties the psychology of the players, the psychology of the characters, and the mechanics of the game together in such a brilliant way. It absolutely has its cake and eats it too. It allows the players and the GM to explore violence in such a complex, nuanced way while also tailoring the combat systems to what the players want, and changing it from one session to the next or even one minute to the next. It's kind of genius.

    1. Thank you very much for your kind words.

      I think as an idea it works rather well; to work on the table it will, probably need some setup of what is full/simplified/no rules. So far in my mind Resisting is something like simple PbtA check, one or two for the whole combat; Reluctant is something like OSR systems (Black/White hacks, Knave, LotFP), Rejoiced is Pathfinder/4ed and Resigned is getting something closer to 5th ed/Savage World in complexity. Whatever main combat system gets used for Rejoiced, it can be then simplified along these lines for others (obviously if Rejoiced already use 5ed as a main combat engine, Resigned would be simpler than that).

      Of course, feel free to use the idea if you wish.

  3. i quite like the conceit, tho to my untested eyes it seems much too fiddly; on the table i could see this being a bit of hassle to handle especially when dealing with a party of differently-natured PCs.

    seems tailor fit for combining with skerples' Iron mechanic from their dark souls-esque idea.

    love nature-tied damage, ive used something similar for a whe but still bogged down by class, not something mutable like here so im gonna steal that haha

    1. Thank you
      Feel free to use it, of course.

      As for fiddly, I think that once the setup of which combat engine to use and what rules are not-essential is done it probably won't be that difficult. The main stumbling block right now is to correlate one-roll "combat" for Resisting with everything else.

  4. Damn K, this is a really interesting post! 2.5 hit me especially hard tho, why do people gotta be like that :(

    1. I don't know. I wish I did know. I wonder if this is because later DnD, Pathfinder and similar games which give player characters a lot more personal power comparatively to the rest of the world (most of people in it, NPCs, i.e.) reveal something about the players. Maybe this is because people want to let off steam and feel in control at least there. Maybe because combat is genuinely interesting chess puzzle for them, or combat-loot cycle triggers something in that hunter-gatherer part of people that a lot of addictive videogames are taking a severe advantage of.

      Thank you for taking care to read all of that overlong post.

    2. Please, i'll always read your stuff. i was happy to see it pop up in my feed!

      i like the seeming inevitability of the transformation and how the PC can't move back to the left. i also really like how the transition from Rejoiced to Resigned can be predicated on something the player says rather than the character. really good.

    3. I thought it would serve a double purpose 1) give the player the opportunity to take the complexity down somewhat if full-rules combat is no longer enjoyable for them, and 2) thematically tie it up with what Wrecking is in Gheste, and to the stage of Divine Addiction which, logically, should follow from the Rejoiced stage. Glad you like it.